Tfc. Ernest A. Meads was on a routine patrol Nov. 25 when the state police trooper was summoned to a one-car accident on U.S. Route 1 near Hickory.

Arriving at the scene, Meads found that a 26-year-old man had crashed his Nissan Maxima into a utility pole.

The trooper determined that the driver was not seriously injured, but appeared to have been driving while intoxicated. Meads took the motorist to the state police barracks in Benson for a Breathalyzer test, but the man refused to take the test.

Using a new law, Meads then confiscated the man's driver's license on the spot -- even before he had his day in court.

The driver is one of 706 Harford County motorists whose driver's licenses have been confiscated after their arrest on charges of driving while intoxicated since a new state law permitting the measures took effect in January.

"People get upset," said state police Tfc. Michael J. Mullin, an instructor of a new safe-driving course state police are sponsoring to cut down on drunken driving. "They're shocked. But that's not my problem. They should have thought about that sooner."

To date, 1,244 drunken driving arrests have been made in the county this year, state police statistics show. Last year, 1,309 DWI arrests were made, the highest number in the last five years.

"People just do not realize what is going to happen to them when they drink and drive," Mullin said. "They should think if they get caught, they'll pay the price. And they will pay the price."

If convicted of driving while intoxicated, motorists face up to one year in prison and up to $1,000 in fines. They also face suspension or revocation of their driver's licenses and could be ordered to mandatory counseling and community service work.

The new penalties allow for driver's licenses to be suspended for 45 days for a first offense and 90 days for a second offense if the motorists fail the breath or blood test given at the time of arrest.

Drivers who refuse to take a breath or blood test can have their licenses suspended for up to 120 days for their first offense and up to one year for their second offense under the law.

The suspensions for refusing to be tested are handed out by the state Motor Vehicles Administration before offenders go to court on drunken driving charges. Even if the motorist is found not guilty, the suspensions stand, said Mullin.

Since the new law took effect, 12,314 licenses have been confiscated out of 22,704 arrests so far this year in Maryland, the state police reported.

"The scary thing is that about 2,000 of them were from drivers under 21," Mullin said of the statewide statistic. "They're under the legal drinking age and they're already out drinking and driving."

Drunken drivers are one of the leading causes of traffic accidents, Mullin said. In November, for example, 17 DWI arrests were made in the county when state police were called to investigate accidents.

Of the 27 fatal accidents investigated in the county by the state police so far this year, 10 of the drivers involved in the accidents were found to have been using alcohol or narcotics, Mullin said.

Meanwhile, the state police beefed up enforcement action against drunken drivers this weekend.

As part of the national Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week, the state police put an additional 15 troopers on patrol and set up a sobriety checkpoint Friday night.

The state police set up two other such stops earlier this year, checking 1,183 motorists and netting 12 drunken drivers, Mullin said.

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