Drunken drivers get a pass in Maryland | READER COMMENTARY

In Virginia, everyone convicted of DUI, including first time offenders, must get an ignition interlock system such as the Smart Start 20/20, as demonstrated by Ben Bastible in Chesapeake, Virginia. File. (L. Todd Spencer/

While The Baltimore Sun detailed the “bundles of bills” recently moved by Maryland General Assembly (“On busy ‘crossover day,’ legislature advances abortion records protections, Senate introduces budget bill,” March 20), it missed mentioning a pair of bills that — despite having broad support among members — were given apparent death sentences this year in Annapolis.

Succinctly, the identical bills, House Bill 451 and Senate Bill 528, sought to expand the universe of persons subject to Maryland’s Ignition Interlock System Program to include persons put on probation for either a driving under the influence of alcohol or driving while impaired by alcohol.


According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, more than half of persons adjudicated for either DUI or DWI in Maryland in 2021 were granted probation before judgment and therefore not subject to the full universe of public protections — namely participation in Maryland’s proven effective interlock program.

Ignition interlock devices reduce “repeat offenses for driving while intoxicated by about 70%,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And they are proven to be “highly effective in allowing a vehicle to be started by sober drivers but not by alcohol-impaired drivers,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both bills, therefore, looked to simply ensure public safety by subjecting all DUI and DWI offenders to Maryland’s interlock program as a condition of probation.


NHTSA data show that “interlocks typically are used as a condition of probation for DWI offenders, to prevent them from driving while impaired by alcohol after their driver’s licenses have been reinstated.” The need for such loophole-closing public policy in Maryland is all too clear as fiscal year 2020 MVA data show that more than 6,100 drivers were prevented from driving after consuming alcohol last year via Maryland’s interlock program.

However, once the crossover day dust settled in Annapolis last week, neither bill — despite the leadership exhibited by the legislation’s sponsors and majority of respective committee members who supported the public safety measures — made it to either chamber’s floor for votes to move said bills forward, likely ending their further movement this year.

In a state where nearly a third of traffic fatalities still involve drunken drivers, not using Maryland’s existing — and offender-paid — interlock program for the full universe of DUI and or DWI offenders in the state is, at best, not using every tool in Maryland’s toolbox to prevent drunken driving. At worst, it is potentially deadly as 2021 bore witness to increases in the number of drunken driving crashes and number of persons injured in Maryland.

— Kurt Erickson, Tysons, Virginia

The writer is president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

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