Ehrlichs target impaired young drivers

First lady says bill will boost penalty for alcohol, drug use

Baltimore & region


Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich announced yesterday that the administration would try again to create stiffer penalties for minors who drive with drugs or alcohol in their systems.

Speaking at the annual Maryland Remembers ceremony to raise awareness of impaired driving, Ehrlich said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would propose legislation to suspend the driver's licenses of those younger than 21 for three years or until they turn 21 if they are convicted of any alcohol- or drug-related driving offenses. A similar bill passed the House of Delegates last year but failed in the Senate.

"Hundreds of innocent people in Maryland are being killed each year by drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs," Ehrlich said in a statement. "Hundreds of thousands of their loved ones and friends are mourning their loss every day because someone chose to drive impaired. These tragedies can be prevented."

According to the Maryland Highway Administration, 286 Marylanders died in crashes related to drunken driving in 2004. That was about 45 percent of the 643 total traffic deaths in the state.

Ehrlich appeared with Monica Johnston of Severna Park, whose daughter, Jessica Wacker, was critically injured in 2002 when an impaired driver hit her car on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

"Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, whole communities are victimized every time a drunk driver hurts or kills someone," Johnston said.

At yesterday's ceremony, victims' families presented pictures of loved ones and announced their names.

The event came after a year of stepped-up activity by state and local police, who conducted more than 150 sobriety checkpoints and other enforcement actions and removed 495 drunk or drugged drivers from the road, according to the highway administration. The effort cost the state $2.2 million.

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