Maryland, end the drunk-driving epidemic: pass Noah’s Law

Photo courtesy Lisa Spicknall

Photo courtesy Lisa Spicknall

By Editorial Board

Photo courtesy of Lisa Spicknall.

Officer Noah Leotta had a bright future, but everything changed the night of Dec. 3, his father Rich Leotta said. “No more laughs, no more walks, no more talks, no more future.”

That was the night that Officer Leotta was struck by a drunk driver while on duty with the Montgomery County Police Department. He passed away just seven days later, leaving his family and friends devastated.

This was not an isolated incident. There are 7,884 impaired driving accidents in Maryland annually, according to the Office of the Governor. These accidents cause 170 fatalities every year, each one entirely preventable.

In order to reduce the number of drunk driving accidents, injuries and fatalities and to honor Officer Noah Leotta and the other victims of drunk driving, the Maryland state legislature should pass the Drunk Driving Reduction Act of 2016: Noah’s Law.

Noah’s Law will expand the use of ignition interlock technology to first-time offenders, preventing all prior offenders from returning to the streets while under the influence.

Ignition interlock devices require drivers to pass a breath test in order to start their vehicles. Drivers are locked out of their vehicles if there is any alcohol detected on their breath, even if it is below the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC).

Ignition interlock is one of the only tools that has produced results when dealing with drunk drivers, 19th District Delegate Benjamin Kramer explained. States with strict ignition interlock laws have seen a significant reduction in drunk driving accidents and associated deaths—in Arizona, drunk driving deaths have dropped 50 percent, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Although Maryland has had an ignition interlock program since 1989, the current program is insufficient. It allows repeat DUI offenders and first-time offenders with a BAC of over .15 to opt-in rather than requiring them to participate and targets only this small subset of offenders, ignoring first-time offenders with BACs between .08 and .15 percent.

Noah’s Law ensures that offenders enter the interlock program after their first offense rather than after a second or third. This is a crucial safeguard against recurring DUIs; in the status quo, one-third of DUI arrests are of repeat offenders.

The technology has already lowered repeat offenses through Maryland’s current program; in 2015, it stopped 4,000 attempts to drive with a BAC of over .08 and prevented an additional 24,000 attempts to drive after any alcohol consumption, Delegate Kramer said. Passing Noah’s Law will prevent thousands more attempts to drive while under the influence of alcohol, thereby saving many more lives.

In March, two different forms of Noah’s law passed the Maryland House and the Senate. The House legislation doesn’t require ignition interlocks for suspected drunk drivers who refuse a blood alcohol test. The Senate legislation is stronger, containing this provision.

Both bills have been sent to a Conference Committee to be reconciled and reintroduced for another vote. This vote must occur on or before Monday, April 11 when the current legislative session comes to a close.

Drunk drivers cannot be allowed to endanger the community again and again. Each time someone drives while intoxicated, they are choosing to put everyone at risk and may take innocent lives, as in the case of Officer Leotta.

Every member of the community has the power to ensure Noah’s Law is passed.

Write or call state legislators and urge them to pass this bill before time runs out. Reaching out takes just a few minutes, but has the potential to save countless lives.

Email a senator or delegate before Monday (contact information below) with this sample email or another message urging them to pass Noah’s Law:

Dear Senator/Delegate,
I’m writing to express concern about legislation regarding driving under the influence in our state. Please vote for Noah’s Law in this legislative session to require ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders and honor fallen officer Noah Leotta.
Sincerely, ____________.

District 16 (Bethesda) Legislators
Senator Susan C. Lee: [email protected] or 410-841-3124
Delegate C. William Frick: [email protected] or 410-841-3454
Delegate Ariana B. Kelly: [email protected] or 410-841-3642
Delegate Marc Korman: [email protected] or 410-841-3649
Find contact information for legislators from other districts here.

For further action, contact the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and House Judiciary Committee here.