There is a reason that tough drunken-driving legislation has a difficult time passing in Annapolis — that is, besides House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr.
The problem is that the people pushing for such bills are too nice, too squeaky-clean, too public-spirited. They're do-gooders. They're not in it for the bucks. And that makes some legislators uncomfortable.
Sleazy, self-interested industries they can deal with. Ethically challenged lobbyists-for-hire — even those with felony convictions on their resumes — are welcome in all the best back rooms. Fixers with campaign contributions are treated like visiting royalty.
But the notion of a visit by a couple of officials from a group such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving sends chills down the spines of lawmakers. Those people don't want to cut deals. They don't come bearing checks. There's no wink-wink, nod-nod. They're no fun at all.
And, frankly, some think they're a bit naive. On the final weekend of the General Assembly session, with their No. 1 priority ignition interlock bill hanging in the balance, top officials at MADD had plans to be out of town at a conference. That's not how the system operates. No wonder Vallario was able to kill the bill.
Drunken-driving is a serious problem and if MADD wants to be taken seriously, it needs a new tactic. It needs a self-interested, politically connected ally to make legislators respect them. They need some "black hats" who can go toe-to-toe with the liquor lobby and give as good as they get.
It just so happens I have a nominee: the taxicab industry.
There's nothing wrong with taxi firms. They provide a valuable service. And they're profit-making enterprises that have been known to hire lobbyists to promote their interests.
But so far, these companies have yet to focus on drunken driving as a pocketbook issue. They should.
Every time a drunk leaves a bar and gets on the road, that person is taking business away from a taxi or limo driver who ought to be doing the driving. It's theft. And to save a measly $20 or $30 — OK, maybe $50 — these lushes are endangering other human beings.
Figure 25,000 folks are arrested in Maryland for drunken driving each year. Now figure that for every drunk who is caught, probably 100 make it to their destinations safely. That's 2.5 million rides that should have been taken in taxis. Let's conservatively estimate the average fare at $20. That's $50 million a year being siphoned off from the hard-working taxi drivers of this state.
If that isn't enough to work a taxicab industry lobbyist into a high state of indignation, what is?
This suggestion of an alliance isn't completely off the wall. You're not going to stop people from going out to drink, but when they do, they should plan a safe way to get back. A taxi might seem expensive up front, but after that third or fourth drink it might be the best investment a person can make — especially when compared with the cost of a defense lawyer such as Vallario. That money the defense bar is collecting for representing drunken drivers ought to go to taxi operators.
Avoid an interlock. Take a taxi. It's a great message for MADD and the cabbies. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
A kind word – really
It took a lot of work and patience, but Del. James Malone brought a fractious group of lawmakers around to consensus and won passage of an important bill for bike safety during the recent session.
Last year, Malone was the recipient of a brickbat from this direction for the demise of a bill requiring that motorists allow a 3-foot buffer zone around bicyclists. But this year, Malone, chairman of the House subcommittee that deals with motor vehicle legislation, got it done.
Malone, along with House Environmental Matters Committee Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh and Sens. Norman Stone and Brian Frosh, also played a key role in the passage of the bill banning the far-too-common practice of chatting on cell phones while driving. He was the bill's floor leader and did an impressive job. Malone also won House passage of a bill closing a loophole in the state's texting-while-driving ban. The bill failed on the last day, but that was the Senate's fault.
Writing laws seeking to bring common sense to the highways can be a thankless task, but Malone — a former firefighter who has seen the results of traffic carnage up close — has really stepped up as a champion of safety. And for that, the Arbutus Democrat deserves a rare bouquet of thanks from his constituents.