Maryland considers lowering DWI level

By Ashley M. Heher
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
March 14, 2001

For the fifth straight year, the Maryland General Assembly will consider legislation that would lower the state’s driving while intoxicated charge from a .10 blood-alcohol content level to .08.

If the legislation passes in the House of Delegates and the Senate, Maryland’s drunk driving designation would be included in the ranks of 18 other states and the District of Columbia.

Under current Maryland law, drivers are charged with driving under the influence if their blood-alcohol content is higher than .07 and less than .10. Drivers with a blood-alcohol level of .10 and higher are given the more severe designation of DWI.

If passed, the new legislation would create a new drunk driving standard — driving while impaired — for drivers found to have a blood-alcohol limit of .07. Those with levels of .08 and higher would be charged with DUI and receive the same penalties of the state’s current DWI charge. The DWI charge would be eliminated.

The legislation would not only streamline the state’s laws with those in many other states in the nation, but would also prevent a loss of federal highway funds estimated to be about $140 million dollars over the next six years.

Calls to legislators who cosponsored the legislation in the House, the only chamber to take up the bill so far this session, were not returned.

“We are going to be able to save lives, avert more injuries and protect people on the roads. That’s the goal of this legislation,” Del. Sharon Grosfield (D-Montgomery) told The Washington Post Feb. 27. “The federal government forced our hand, but it was always good legislation.”

Last fall, the Department of Transportation said it would withhold federal money from states that had not passed a .08 law by 2003. In January, for the first time in his six-year tenure, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening added the bill to his list of legislative priorities.

The lobbying superpower group Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been a dominant force behind the federal .08 standards, as well as within many states, including Maryland.

In previous years, Maryland’s .08 legislation hasn’t even made it out of committee, but this year, the House Judiciary Committee granted its approval and sent the legislation to the floor.

A debate date for the legislation has not yet been established.

The legislation must pass in both the House and the Senate before being sent on to Gov. Glendening for final approval.

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