Noah’s Law a good call

Record Observer - - Opinion -

When the gavel came down at mid­night April 11 on the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly’s an­nual 90-day ses­sion, the leg­is­la­ture left some un­fin­ished busi­ness on the ta­ble — most no­tably, the tax re­lief pack­ages sought by Gov. Larry Ho­gan.

But the state’s law­mak­ers can be jus­ti­fi­ably proud of one ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment: the unan­i­mous pas­sage of “Noah’s Law,” which Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing her­alded as the na­tion’s tough­est such leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices for any­one found driv­ing drunk. Th­ese de­vices pre­vent a ve­hi­cle from start­ing with­out a sober breath test.

Ear­lier in the ses­sion, there had been a pro­posal to link the bill with a mea­sure that would have al­lowed puni­tive dam­ages in civil suits in­volv­ing drunk driv­ers. By the last day of ses­sion, the idea of join­ing the two bills was aban­doned, and Noah’s Law sailed through.

Mary­land be­came the 26th state to pass such a law, with sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion pend­ing this month in Cal­i­for­nia, Mas­sachusetts, Michi­gan, North Carolina, Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio. Ho­gan said he was “100 per­cent be­hind this bill,” so it’s guar­an­teed to be signed into law later this year.

Noah’s Law was named for Noah Leotta, a Mont­gomery County po­lice of­fi­cer killed last De­cem­ber by a sus­pected drunken driver. The of­fi­cer’s par­ents were in the gallery in An­napo­lis on April 11 to wit­ness the bill’s pas­sage. Here are some of the de­tails on the new law: Af­ter their ar­rest, all first-time of­fend­ers with at least a 0.08 blood al­co­hol level must ei­ther in­stall an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vice for a min­i­mum 180 days or re­lin­quish their driv­ing priv­i­leges dur­ing a 180-day li­cense sus­pen­sion.

Also, Mary­land judges are re­quired to or­der an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock for at least six months for first-time con­victed drunken driv­ers.

In ad­di­tion, the pe­riod of re­quir­ing an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock or li­cense sus­pen­sion for sus­pected drunken driv­ers who refuse a chem­i­cal test has been boosted to 270 days for the first of­fense un­der Noah’s Law. Pre­vi­ously, that pe­riod had been 120 days for the first of­fense. A driver can avoid the li­cense sus­pen­sion by in­stalling an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock for one year.

Also, Noah’s Law elim­i­nates cer­tain driv­ing re­stric­tions for peo­ple who in­stall an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock. In the past, driv­ers who in­stalled an in­ter­lock also had time and route re­stric­tions while on the de­vice.

Ho­gan had al­ready taken ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion ear­lier this year to ex­pand the use of ig­ni­tion in­ter­locks as an op­tion to all first of­fend­ers. Noah’s Law strength­ens that ac­tion by re­quir­ing all first and sub­se­quent of­fend­ers to in­stall an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock dur­ing a li­cense sus­pen­sion. Pre­vi­ously, only first of­fend­ers who reg­is­tered blood al­co­hol lev­els of 0.15 and above blood al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion — nearly twice the le­gal limit — and re­peat of­fend­ers were or­dered to use an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock.

Ac­cord­ing to MADD, states with first and sub­se­quent of­fender ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock laws have seen ma­jor re­duc­tions in drunken driv­ing deaths — by 50 per­cent in Ari­zona and by 40 per­cent in West Vir­ginia. In a re­port re­leased in Fe­bru­ary, MADD es­ti­mated ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices have stopped 1.77 mil­lion at­tempts to drive while un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol.

Mary­land’s tough new law shows we re­gard drunk driv­ing as the crime it is. If Noah’s Law saves even one life, it’s well worth the pre­ven­tion ef­fort.

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