- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland lawmakers toughened state highway laws during the 2002 legislative session.
Two major bills passed this year relate to drunken driving, including one that toughens penalties for those charged with driving drunk twice or more in five years. Another bans passengers in motor vehicles from holding open containers of alcoholic beverages.
Other bills require that children ride in booster seats until their sixth birthday and make it a felony if a driver leaves the scene after killing or seriously injuring a pedestrian.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening plans to sign all of the bills into law, bringing to a close what Lon Anderson, public-affairs director for AAA Mid-Atlantic, calls a "huge year" for highway safety.
"The fact is, for the driving public, these four measures are very good," Mr. Anderson said.
Highway-safety bills that lawmakers shot down included legislation to stiffen penalties for trucks and trucking companies that knowingly loaded their vehicles in unsafe ways, leading to serious accidents.
Other proposals that didn't pass muster would have allowed local police to use radar cameras to catch speeders and banned drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones.
By passing the open-container bill, Maryland joined the District and 34 other states with similar measures. Several Maryland counties already had bans on local levels.
Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery Democrat, sponsored the Senate bill, saying it could help mitigate a practice that can be a significant distraction to drivers, including in extreme cases what she called "rolling keg parties."
The bill would not apply to passengers in recreational vehicles, motor homes, buses and limousines, nor to containers kept in locked glove compartments or car trunks.
Under the repeat drunken-driver bill, someone convicted twice within five years will have their license suspended for at least a year. For up to a year after the suspension, that person will be able to drive only cars equipped with ignition-interlock systems that check for sobriety.
Maryland stood to lose $7 million in federal highway-construction funds if the two drunken-driving bills had not passed.
The booster-seat legislation expands a law that mandates that children 4 and younger ride in car seats. The penalty for a violation is $25.
The bill's sponsor, Delegate William Bronrott, Montgomery Democrat, said, "It will help protect thousands of children against the number one threat to their lives."
Highway crashes are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 4 and 8, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The requirement would take effect Oct. 1, 2003, giving families time to learn about and purchase the seats, which cost $20 to $30.
Booster seats help prevent fatalities by propping up young children's bodies so that seat belts designed for adults properly fit them. Without the boosters, seat-belt straps line up across a small child's neck and stomach. In a crash, the belts themselves can cause serious injury.
The hit-and-run measure passed this session makes it a felony for at-fault drivers to flee the scene of a fatal crash. It also doubles the penalty, from up to $5,000 in fines or five years in jail, to up to $10,000 or 10 years in jail. Penalties also were stiffened for leaving a crash causing serious bodily injury.

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