The 2010 Maryland General Assembly Session was an incredible disappointment to many of us in the traffic safety community. While there were significant opportunities for legislators to make our roads safer, these were mainly wasted opportunities.
As has been reported, the Ignition Interlock Bill died in the House Judiciary Committee. This important, life-saving legislation would have required anyone convicted of driving above the legal alcohol limit - .08 to have an ignition interlock system installed in their car.
Here is where the disappointment begins. Although the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of this bill, it added an amendment excluding those who receive a Probation Before Judgment (PBJ) – nearly 60 percent of first-time offenders. But even eliminating the majority of first-time offenders was apparently still asking too much for House Judiciary Chairman, Joseph F. Vallario Jr., who refused to bring the bill to a vote at all, despite tremendous efforts of the bill sponsor, Del Ben Kramer.
Another critical bill, which has not received the same level of attention, but suffered the same fate, is HB 388. This legislation would have closed the loophole between vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving. It would hold those who kill someone while driving, due to their extreme negligence, accountable, which unfortunately is not happening now. Current Maryland law allows many who kill someone in a crash to simply be issued tickets and pay a few fines.
While HB 388 failed to be called for a vote in the Judiciary Committee, the Senate version, SB 870, was literally gutted by the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Ultimately, both bills died, as they have in years past.
While we commend the many lawmakers who take a bold leadership stance by sponsoring these life-saving measures, we are, perhaps naively, hoping that next year's outcome will be better.
AAA Mid-Atlantic believes it is unconscionable that year after year, so many bills aren't even called for a vote and that decisions are often made unilaterally at the hands of a Committee chairperson. Perhaps it is time to question whether Committee chairs in Maryland should continue to have more power than almost any others in the nation.
So, while some may claim success in Annapolis, many safety advocates and families of victims are disappointed. However, we remain hopeful that Maryland citizens will receive a better outcome in 2011 than they did this year.
Ragina Cooper Averella
The writer is the public and government affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic.