- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Maryland drivers will be held to a tougher drunken-driving standard beginning Sunday, and state officials are promising the new law will be strictly enforced to reduce highway fatalities.
The law passed by the legislature last spring lowers the blood-alcohol content for drunken driving from .10 to .08. A reading of .07 will constitute driving under the influence of alcohol, down from the current level of .08.
The $2 million the state will get from the federal government as an incentive for passing the law will all be put into enforcement, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said yesterday.
To make sure drivers know about the stricter standard, the state will use radio advertisements during prime drunken-driving hours, road signs and even drink coasters at bars to publicize the new law, she said.
"The message is simple. Just don't drink and drive," Mrs. Townsend said. "If you decide to risk it, you will be caught and you will be punished."
In addition to approving the .08 standard, lawmakers passed a law that will let prosecutors inform jurors that a driver refused to take a breath test.
Supporters of that bill argued during the legislative session that when test results are not introduced, many jurors assume the driver had taken the test and passed it, making it difficult to get convictions.
Lt. Col. William Arrington, deputy state police superintendent, said state police will begin vigorously enforcing the new law.
State police plan to begin sobriety checkpoints right away and will continue an intensive enforcement campaign through the end of 2002.
Mrs. Townsend said highway safety experts estimate the stricter standard will save 20 to 25 lives in Maryland each year and reduce the number of injuries in traffic accidents by 1,200 to 1,400. She said 195 of 617 fatalities in Maryland last year were attributed to drunken driving.
"These are preventable deaths. We are going to do whatever it takes to prevent them," she said.
Advocates of stronger drunken driving laws failed three years in a row to lower the standard to .08 before winning overwhelming approval of their bills in both the House and Senate in April.
With Gov. Parris N. Glendening and top legislative leaders pushing for the tougher standard, and with the federal government threatening to cut off some highway funds, only a few of the 188 lawmakers voted against the bill.
One of those opponents, Sen. Timothy Ferguson, a Republican who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, argued during final Senate debate that the real danger comes from drunken drivers whose blood alcohol content is well above the .10 standard.
"In the long run, there's going to be some people down the road at .08 who are quite capable of driving. They're not disoriented, they're not drunk, they're not disabled in any way, mentally or physically, but they're going to get snared in this dragnet," he said.
Mrs. Townsend also served notice that drunken-driving opponents are not finished. She said she and the governor will be back at the 2002 session pushing legislation to ban possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles and to increase penalties for repeat drunken driving.

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