Crusade against drunk-driving

March 16, 1994

Over the years, trial lawyers in the Maryland General Assembly have been able to beat back attempts to get tough with drunk drivers. It is in these lawyer-legislators' own interests to keep state laws on drunk-driving as lax as possible. It helps their defendant-clients get off the hook in court.

It has taken enormous pressure from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to get these lawmakers to grudgingly close some of Maryland's loopholes. But too many gaping holes in the laws pertaining to drunken driving remain. One of them, though, could be slammed shut this session, thanks to the friends of Annie Davis.

Annie was just 12 years old when she was killed by an alleged drunk driver in a car accident that could easily have killed the two other children in the car, too. But the driver of the pickup truck never took a blood alcohol test because he legally didn't have to. The reason: Annie didn't die at the scene of the zTC accident, but a day later. The law says police can require a blood alcohol test only in cases where there is a fatality. By the time Annie died, it was too late to test the driver to determine his drunkenness.

This situation is intolerable. The fact that lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee condone such a loophole is even more inexcusable. Most states have tougher drunk-driving requirements than Maryland. Mandatory testing in serious accidents is supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Maryland State Police and most law-enforcement agencies. More and more drivers arrested on drunken driving charges are taking advantage of this loophole.

Yet it took the concerted effort of Annie Davis' friends from Magothy River Middle School to bring lawmakers to their senses. It wasn't easy. The bill was killed once in committee, as trial lawyers again worried more about the rights of the defendants than the victims. But the Anne Arundel school children, teachers and Annie's family didn't give up. They lobbied lawmakers so hard that Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario did the unexpected: he agreed to re-consider this issue, something that is very rare in his committee.

So the legislature may well pass a law expanding the cases in which police can force a driver to take a blood-alcohol test. But it doesn't go far enough. This test should be required in most accidents where police deem it necessary. The Supreme Court says such a law is constitutional. The only thing blocking such a law is the trial lawyers clique in the General Assembly. Maybe Annie Davis' tragic death has shaken them to their senses. Drunken driving is a crime that isn't treated seriously enough by these lawmakers.

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