Drunken driving causes on average 7,884 crashes in Maryland each year, killing about 170 people. Anything the state can do to reduce that number is welcome, whether through prevention, which is preferable, or enforcement — or a combination of both, as in Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to expand the state’s ignition-interlock program.
“Our administration is committed to protecting all Marylanders by taking the common sense steps that will help prevent drunk driving,” Hogan said in a statement. “These proposed regulations will make our roads and communities safer by ensuring past drunk driving offenders cannot start their car after they have been drinking.”
Currently, only drivers arrested on suspicion of drunken driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 or more can opt into the program, so they can continue to drive, rather than being stripped of their license, which is suspended at the time of arrest.
Other impaired drivers, those who have a BAC over 0.08 or higher, but lower than 0.15, don’t have that choice unless they wait weeks until the option to join the ignition-interlock program becomes available at an administrative hearing on their case.
Other options are available, but we won’t get into the weeds here. Suffice to say that ignition-interlock devices — into which drivers have to blow a sober breath in order to get their vehicles to start — has been proven to save lives.
About a third of drunken drivers are repeat offenders and, on average, a drunken driver has driven inebriated 80 times before his or her first arrest, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Of those who are caught, anywhere from half to three quarters continue to drive on a suspended license. Of course, only a mandatory ignition interlock system would prevent this latter category from making the dangerous and sometimes fatal choice to get back on the road. Making these devices mandatory has been proposed in the past, only to fail to make it out of the Maryland General Assembly.
According to a review by the CDC of 15 scientific studies of ignition interlock programs, “Researchers found that while these devices were installed, re-arrest rates for alcohol-impaired driving decreased by a median of 67 percent relative to comparison groups.” The state anticipates about 3,300 more offenders would join 11,000 enrolled in the program under the expansion, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Hogan’s proposal would allow those charged with driving while intoxicated — or DWIs — and whose blood alcohol content is 0.08 and over to enroll in the ignition interlock program without having to wait for the administrative hearing, which costs $150. More if the defendant decides to employ a lawyer.
That’s not to say the installation of the interlock device is cheap, either, at about $100 each. They also come with a monthly monitoring fee of up to $90, as users are required to report each month to have the device’s data checked. However, this is a welcome measure, one that encourages prevention, but also has a component of enforcement, and we support it.