Loopholes for Drunk Drivers

March 29, 1994

Trial lawyers in the General Assembly have been able to retain loopholes in drunk-driving laws that help them defend their clients' behavior in court. But this deters efforts to get dangerous drivers off the road or to mete out just punishment.

The latest example is what happened after the death last fall of 12-year-old Annie Davis of Anne Arundel County. She was killed in a car crash. The driver of the other vehicle "volunteered" to police that he had had "a few beers." Beer cans were found in his pickup truck. Yet the driver avoided taking a blood alcohol test, using a legal loophole to avoid this potentially incriminating evidence.

He didn't have to take the test because Annie Davis didn't die at the scene of the accident. State law says police can only require the blood alcohol test in cases where there is a fatality. By the time Annie stopped breathing, it was too late to establish the driver's intoxication.

There is no excuse for such loopholes in state law. They thwart the public's strong desire to crack down on drunk drivers. Some form of mandatory testing is required in most states. Why not in Maryland? That's a question the House Judiciary Committee ought to answer, since it summarily killed a bill to close just such a loophole. The committee is dominated by trial lawyers.

But the friends of Annie Davis, especially students and teachers from Magothy River Middle School, wouldn't give up. They lobbied vigorously, with many of the children speaking with lawmakers to press their point. Suddenly, the impossible happened: the committee chairman agreed to reconsider the issue of expanding police powers to require blood alcohol tests. A new hearing is set for tomorrow. That's unheard of in the Judiciary Committee. It demonstrates what can happen when a group of committed individuals -- children and adults -- won't take "no" for an answer.

More and more drivers in accidents are using this loophole to avoid taking the alcohol test. There's been a 12 percent increase in refusals over three years. That's an alarming trend. Legislators who decide to champion a driver's right to refuse an alcohol test had better have a good reason for this protective position: Voters will be asking tough questions about their lax attitude toward drunk drivers when they seek re-election this summer.

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