- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Starting Sept. 30, a new Maryland law will force anyone convicted of drunken driving twice within five years to install ignition interlocks that require a puff of alcohol-free breath to start a vehicle's engine.
The law requires a one-year mandatory license suspension before repeat offenders can drive with an interlock, which must be used for a year.
It was passed by this year's Maryland General Assembly and signed into law in the spring by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Critics say there are ways to circumvent the interlock such as having someone else blow into the tube.
But advocates say interlocks are a useful tool in a society so accepting of alcohol and so dependent on cars.
"They're not a silver bullet. But the fact is if they're on the vehicle, they do protect public safety," said John Moulden, president of the Washington-based National Commission Against Drunk Driving.
Maryland is one of 41 states that have enacted ignition-interlock laws in recent years to keep receiving federal highway safety funding, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
MADD national President Wendy Hamilton said the key to Maryland's law is that alcohol treatment is required along with the interlocks.
All the research has shown that the longer the interlocks are on, with treatment, the less likely is a repeat offense, she said.
In Maryland, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) monitors 5,200 drivers who pay up to $65 a month for interlocks as part of a program that began in 1989.
"It's either that or lose your license," said Michael Conti, who has been convicted of drunken driving five times since 1986 and had an interlock installed after a conviction in 2000.
After completing a year in the program, he was convicted again last year and again has an interlock installed on his car.
Jane Valenzia, who manages the MVA's program, said if a motorist stopped for drunken driving refuses a roadside breath test, the motorist may have his license suspended for 120 days or agree to use an interlock for a year.
For a second refusal, motorists face a one-year suspension of their driver's license or two years with the interlock.
If someone fails the breath test, the length of the suspension or the interlock requirement depends on the number of previous driving violations, she said.
The interlocks, marketed by four state-approved firms, are about the size of a cell phone, fit on a dashboard and hook up to the ignition. They record the date, time and distance of each trip. Breathing into the tube is required to start the car.
Once a month, the drivers must take their cars to one of 26 service centers in the state, where the travel information recorded by the interlocks is transferred to a computer and turned over to the MVA.
Miss Valenzia said drivers with interlocks have their driver's licenses stamped with a code to alert police if they are stopped.
She said that of the 4,843 drivers who had interlocks last year, about 650 were removed from the program. Some quit voluntarily, agreeing to a license suspension. But most were removed because they broke the rules and had their licenses suspended, she said.
Miss Valenzia said that up to a handful of drivers have been arrested over the years for drunken driving while on the monitoring program. One man was charged after he had his granddaughter blow into the tube for him.
"You have all kinds of people and some of them think they can fool the system," Miss Valenzia said.

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