Noah’s Law a good call
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.