Maryland House Votes to Expand Ignition Interlock - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Maryland House Votes to Expand Ignition Interlock

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(Photo: CBS) (Photo: CBS)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)- After seven years of trying, supporters of expanding Maryland's ignition interlock program to help reduce drunken driving pushed the measure through the state's House of Delegates on Tuesday in a unanimous vote prompted at least partly by the death of a Montgomery County police officer.
    
The bill, approved by a 136-0 vote, now goes to the Senate. It would require all drivers with blood alcohol contents of 0.08 or greater to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. The devices require drivers to blow into them to start their cars to determine whether they have had too much to drink. State law now requires ignition interlock for those with a blood alcohol content of 0.15.
    
"The ignition interlock device is the only thing that actually modifies the behavior of drunk drivers when it's been put on their car for at least six months," said Del. Ben Kramer, who sponsored the bill in the House. "With passage of this bill, we will definitely be saving lives, and every state that has done it has seen reductions in fatalities every year of 35 to 65 percent."
    
The bill is being called "Noah's Law" because of the December death of Officer Noah Leotta. The Montgomery County officer was killed while working on a driving-under-the-influence assignment by a suspected drunken driver with two previous convictions. While efforts to expand the ignition interlock have failed repeatedly over the years, Kramer said Leotta's death brought greater attention to the problem and increased support for changing the law.
    
"I think the difference is that we had a real groundswell of support," Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, said.
    
The measure also is significant for bringing a stiffer penalty to people who refuse to take a breath test when pulled over by police. Refusing to take the test would result in a suspended license for 270 days, up from 120 days. If drivers refuse the breath test, they could opt into the ignition interlock program. If they refuse and are later convicted of drunken driving, they would be ordered into the program.
    
Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the measure had strong prospects and could even be strengthened in the Senate by hastening when drivers would need to have the devices installed and extending how long they would be used.
    
"We will have consensus to try to move forward with an even stronger piece of legislation," Zirkin said after the House vote.
    
Lisa Spicknall, the state program director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the group was pleased with the legislation.
    
"We are working on the Senate as we speak, and I think we're going to see a great strong law come out and probably be one of the toughest in the nation, so I'm very thrilled about that," Spicknall said.
    
Twenty-five states have laws that require ignition interlocks for all offenders following any drunken-driving offense.

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