- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

Maryland officials yesterday strengthened efforts to prevent teens from driving drunk by putting into effect a law that suspends the licenses of violators.

Motorists younger than 21 convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol will have their licenses suspended for one year. A second DUI conviction will result in a two-year suspension.

“Maryland has made strides in other areas, but the issue of the impaired teen driver has been largely ignored,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

The legislation was signed last spring by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. It was a response to eight accidents in Montgomery County in 2004 that killed 10 persons and involved drivers younger than 21.

Mr. Erickson said the accidents were a “galvanizing force” that led to three licensing bills last year.

Under a fourth bill, a teen convicted of DUI would lose his driver’s license for three years or until he turned 21, whichever was longer. The bill was reworked, and the language became the law that went into effect yesterday.

“This law is addressing [teen drunken driving] in a way that is meaningful,” Mr. Erickson said. “It is not jailing teens, which I don’t think there is a political will to do, or fining them, where too often the fines are paid by the parents — but taking away their license.”

A Maryland Department of Education survey published last October found that more than 27 percent of the state’s high school seniors drove at least once after consuming one or more alcoholic drinks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report last year showing that 28 percent of 15- to 20-year-olds involved in fatal crashes last year had been drinking.

Mr. Erickson said comparing Maryland’s DUI laws to other states’ laws is difficult because most other states have “use-and-lose statutes,” taking away driver’s licenses for any alcohol-related offense, even if it does not involve a vehicle.

In August, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles attributed a decrease in alcohol-related teen accidents to tougher DUI laws, including mandatory jail terms.

The District also has mandatory jail terms, Mr. Erickson said.

A second Maryland DUI law that went into effect yesterday will double the license suspension periods to 90 days for people arrested with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.15 percent. A one-year, ignition-lock device also will be required for those arrested for driving with high blood alcohol levels.

Thirty states now have laws related to the high levels, Mr. Erickson said.

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