The State of Drunken Driving

March 17, 1995

Maryland is one of only four states in the country without an illegal per se drunken driving law. What possibly could be the reason for abetting willful drunken driving?

Vehicle crashes involving alcohol killed 200 people in Maryland last year. Such accidents are the single largest cause of death for Americans ages 6 to 33, dwarfing handguns. The economic toll of this carnage is put at $160 million by highway safety advocates, if one can cost out such loss of life.

And yet Maryland law maintains a loophole that mocks this epidemic.

When a motorist's blood-alcohol level is at .10 percent, he is technically, indisputably drunk, with a crash risk a dozen times greater than when sober. A 160-pound man will reach that level after five drinks in an hour, a 120-pound woman in less time. But Maryland law provides defense attorneys the leeway to toss subjective factors against the wall -- sobriety field test results, the motorist's size, road conditions -- to see if any of them stick in clearing their client.

It's a worthwhile crap game for drunken drivers in this state: Roll the dice, maybe they'll get off.

Forty-six other states have erased this loophole with per se laws that honor the scientific standard for drunken driving at .10. In fact, 11 of those states have set a higher standard for their roads with per se blood-alcohol concentrations of .08. (The American Medical Association says a person begins to be impaired at .04.) Yet even under a per se law, defendants may still challenge whether a breath-alcohol test was administered properly by police officers.

Maryland's state senators and delegates should support legislation this year that would create a .10 per se drunken driving law.

The proposal has the support of trauma doctors, police chiefs, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Gov. Parris N. Glendening. With all the publicity and horror stories related to drunken driving, the motoring public has no excuse for ignorance of the danger. A per se law doesn't forbid people from getting drunk; it reinforces the fact they should not drive when they do.

The state of drunkenness is not so open to interpretation. The state of Maryland should stop it from being open to manipulation.

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