Drunken Driving's Guardian?

March 24, 1995

Drunken driving is a heinous specter hovering over our highways. So why would Sen. Walter M. Baker want to be its guardian?

Maryland is one of only four states in the nation without a law that makes it illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol concentration of In fact, 27 states toughened drunk driving laws in 1994, some even lowering the level at which operators are considered impaired to .08.

The House of Delegates just approved the .10 law by a whopping 122-9 margin, after years of scant support for such an initiative.

Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Baltimore County Republican who voted against the measure in committee, reassessed his position and voted for it on the House floor after doing his own experiment: He consumed four beers in an hour and measured only .06 on a breath-alcohol test. That convinced him that someone with a .10 blood-alcohol level may be barely safe to walk, much less operate a motor vehicle. The Glendening administration, the State Police, the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other highway safety advocates all back this legislation.

And yet, Mr. Baker has vowed to bottle it up in his Judicial Proceedings committee. It's a cavalier shell game that the senator plays. Last year, this legislation sailed out of that committee, but got smothered in the House. Now that he can't rely on the House, Mr. Baker feels he must do the dirty deed himself.

The Eastern Shore Democrat argues that this legislation

mandates "trial by machine" by tying a suspect's guilt to a breath-alcohol test. But now, drivers can get off on subjective criteria, such as sobriety field tests or road conditions. Critics return to a hoary argument that Breathalyzers err. In fact, the state police have replaced Breathalyzers with a device called the Intoximeter 3000 that is more accurate and compares two samples at once.

With most of the nation acting to curtail the scourge of drunken driving and its insatiable appetite for young people, Maryland should not be standing still. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. should persuade Mr. Baker not to obstruct legislation that could save lives.

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