This was courage? Drunken-driving law: House committee ignored specter of lost lives or future aid.

March 22, 1998

WHEN MEMBERS of the Judiciary Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates voted 11-10 to kill a bill that would strengthen drunken-driving laws, they weren't thinking about the estimated 23 lives a year to be saved by the change.

Or the 1,400 serious injuries to be avoided.

Or, potentially, the $20 million to $40 million that the state could lose each year in federal aid, under the highway act approved this month by the U.S. Senate.

None of that mattered to those on the committee who voted against House Bill 361 to change the state's definition for driving while intoxicated from a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 to a more stringent 0.08. Every 0.02 rise in the blood-alcohol level doubles the risk of highway death, according to a 1991 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat who opposed the bill, said the vote symbolized "courage," which bTC shows that drunken driving isn't the only thing in need of stronger criteria. The committee let technical objections, which could have been fixed, derail the ultimate goal of combating this menace.

Unfortunately, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee refused to take up the measure after the House panel killed it. Protocol is always protected in Annapolis, even if innocent motorists aren't.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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