ENFORCE THE drunken driving laws on the books before creating more. The flagrant drunken motorist needs to be locked up, not the driver who has just had a few.
You may hear those arguments in Annapolis today if the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee votes on a controversial bill to lower Maryland's blood-alcohol level for "driving while intoxicated" from 0.10 to 0.08. They're the same objections made whenever a lawmaker attempts to punish drunken driving as the killing crime it is. They were heard a decade ago when Maryland lowered the DWI level from 0.13 to 0.10. They were made a few years earlier, too, when the level was reduced from 0.15 to 0.13, as more became known about the effects of alcohol,
Proponents of the 0.08 bill, including the Glendening administration and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, recognize it isn't a cure-all. But it would encourage people to think about the repercussions of driving when they shouldn't. It would also bring Maryland in line with laws in 16 states, including Virginia and the District of Columbia.
A bill by Del. Dana Lee Dembrow to lower the drunken-driving standard to 0.08, but simultaneously soften the penalties, is a disingenuous ploy to technically qualify Maryland for federal aid without making roads safer. The Clinton administration, convinced by medical evidence that 0.08 should be a national standard for drunken driving, last year created financial incentives for states to pass 0.08 legislation.
Mr. Dembrow, a Montgomery Democrat, and others argue that Maryland already has, in effect, a 0.08 law because police can charge drivers measuring that level (or even below) with "driving under the influence." Their arguments ring hollow. Penalties for DUI are far lower than for DWI.
It is time for the Maryland legislature to recognize that drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 are drunk and dangerous -- and should be punished accordingly.
Pub Date: 2/19/99