Maryland is ranked among top 9 states in national fight against drunken driving 'B+' shows improvement over previous report card

November 27, 1996|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Maryland ranks among the top nine states in the fight against drunken driving, but it still has room for improvement, safety activists say.

Maryland rated a "B+" on a report card issued yesterday by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Nationwide Insurance. The groups released the ranking on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend, a holiday period that claimed 275 lives in alcohol-related crashes nationwide last year.

In rating the 50 states, the groups looked primarily at the strength of their laws, prevention, enforcement and the number of alcohol-related fatalities.

They dropped the nation's rating from a B- in 1993, when they last issued the report card, to a C yesterday. MADD National President Katherine Prescott cited a 4 percent increase in alcohol-related highway deaths in 1995. "There seems to be a false perception that the war on drunk driving has been won. But the truth is, last year impaired-driving deaths rose for the first time in a decade," she said.

Alcohol-related fatalities also increased in Maryland, from 233 in 1994 to 238 last year, according to State Highway Administration data.

Still, Maryland's new rank is a slight improvement from the B it received in 1993. Since then, the General Assembly has passed six bills sought by safety advocates, including a 1995 law that makes it easier to prosecute drunken drivers.

Four states -- Arizona, California, Florida and North Carolina -- earned the highest mark, an A-, and Maryland was one of five states with a B+.

"Maryland is going in the right direction, but there are more steps to be taken," said Svend Thomas, Maryland state chairman of MADD.

Randy and Brenda Frazier of Westminster are only too aware of the need for more steps to combat drunk driving. Their 9-year-old daughter, Ashley Elizabeth, was killed in an alcohol-related accident Dec. 22.

With her mother watching, Ashley crossed the road in front of their home to board a school bus that cold morning when she was struck by a driver who had been drinking. Ashley died of her injuries later that day.

"To those who think our nation and the states have done enough to get drunk drivers off our roads, we are here as proof that not nearly enough is being done," said Randy Frazier, 43.

The driver who hit Ashley is scheduled to be sentenced today. Lisa Ann McLain, 21, of Westminster, could receive up to a year in jail for homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

A toxicologist estimated McLain's blood-alcohol level to be .08 percent at the time of the crash. In Maryland, a level of .07 percent is considered under the influence.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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