More Drunk Driving Laws, Because We Can Always Do More
Apr. 13, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Although it previously looked like some of them might not pass, legislators in Maryland got their act together and passed some new laws:
Maryland’s General Assembly session ended with changes to the way police misconduct is handled, tougher laws for drunken drivers and sentencing reform.
While legislators may not be able to agree about everything, that middle part, throwing the book at drunk drivers just a little bit more, had all the characteristics of legislation that couldn’t fail:
One area where Hogan and lawmakers could agree was on Noah’s Law, the bill that would require ignition interlock devices for anyone found driving drunk. Hogan said he was “100 percent behind this bill.”
The bill was named for Officer Noah Leotta, the 24-year-old Montgomery County police officer who died after being struck by a suspected drunken driver in December. Leotta was working on a drunken driving detail the night he was struck.
With passage of the bill, his father, Rich Leotta, said, “Noah will still be on patrol.”
Law named after a person? Check. Picture of said person held up as prop in photo ops supporting said law? Check. Sad background story about what happened to Noah? Check.
The only thing that could’ve made the story behind the law more gripping would’ve been if Noah was a little kid, not a cop. It’s tragic as is, no doubt, and if a law isn’t named after a dead child, naming it after a dead police officer has to be a close second. It should come as no surprise that lawmakers agreed to require ignition interlocks for people found driving drunk. Noah’s dad’s statement about his son still being on patrol thanks to the law bearing his name drives home the powerful emotional draw of such laws.
Of course, the actual law does a lot more than just require an interlock for people found driving drunk. It seems to require it for people who refuse a test as well. On top of that, someone who drives for work may be screwed, as the law requires they have a special form and a notarized acknowledgement from their employer when they drive their employer’s vehicle.
Plenty of people will probably lose their jobs over that part, a problematic result considering the majority of drunk drivers aren’t people cruising around town wasted in the company truck during normal business hours. Making people who had one too many during a night on the town lose their jobs by requiring a device or employer hoops that solve a non-existent problem can’t be good for the economy, but then again, any damage to your average employer will probably be offset by the explosion of income for the cottage ignition interlock industry.
Not to be content with just one DUI-related law named after someone, the Maryland General Assembly doubled down with another law named after two people, and teenagers to boot:
Alex and Calvin’s Law was named for Wooton High School graduates Alex Murk and Calvin Li, the 18-year-old passengers who died in a crash in June after they attended a party where underage drinking had been allowed.
The host of that party was fined — the maximum penalty under the law at the time. The driver of the car involved in the crash pleaded guilty last week and is expected to be sentenced in June.
The law wasn’t quite as tough as some people, most notably the folks at MADD, had hoped:
The bill as passed still calls for jail time for adults who serve alcohol to underage drinkers, but it adds conditions that supporters say water it down — in order to get the jail sentence, the offenders would have to have known that the underage drinker at their home was likely to drive, and any resulting crash would have to end with serious injury or death.
The amended bill also leaves the imposition of a jail sentence up to the judge. Originally, the penalty would have been mandated.
Like Noah’s law, Alex and Calvin’s Law has some serious emotional draw. Young lives cut short by tragedy provoke a powerful desire to do something, and the law certainly does something. Now people can go to jail for giving alcohol to underage individuals. Had some supporters had their way, the law would’ve done far more, however.
The fact that a law could punish someone with jail for giving alcohol to a minor they knew was likely to drive and who ended up hurting or killing someone isn’t that unreasonable. There are extreme instances where it would be hard to find anyone who’d disagree with jail for such an offender. Just imagine the “cool” parent with an open bar, a house full of kids, and a lawn full of cars encouraging everyone to binge drink. He or she may well deserve some time behind bars even if one of those kids doesn’t kill someone. It was foreseeable something bad would happen, and someone should have acted like an adult.
On the other hand, what it seems that some of those supporters wanted was mandatory jail for people who didn’t know anyone was going to drive and where no one was even hurt. Having a beer with your son or daughter just home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan? If some people have their way, maybe you’ll have an orange jumpsuit in your future if your kid later gets the munchies and dings another vehicle driving to get a snack.
DUI and even just drinking, especially when minors are involved, are hot button topics. There are always people who will never be satisfied with any law, no matter how draconian. They aren’t always susceptible to reason either, yet they come around even legislative session clamoring for something newer, tougher, and easier to enforce. The situation in Maryland with Noah’s law and Alex and Calvin’s Law is a perfect example.
When the next officer or teenager dies because of something that can be somehow tied back to alcohol, something that will happen no matter how hard we try to prevent it, the people who wanted a longer interlock period will be able to point out that their law would’ve stopped it. The people who demanded mandatory jail for adults giving alcohol to underage drinkers will no doubt tie it back to some adult who may or may not have realized the kids were going to drive. They’ll cry about the lack of consequences enabling bad guys to endanger society’s children.
It’s all a neat little feature of demanding lifelong penalties or death plus cancer for every conceivable transgression. Those people who want a mandate that every car have an interlock and a law providing for summary execution for those suspected of circumventing that requirement can sit there smugly with the knowledge that they could’ve saved the world if only they had their way. Each year, they come back demanding more, and each year, they get the other side to move a little more in their favor before issuing a statement about whatever did happen not being enough. The next year, they’re proven right.
There’s a downside of compromise when you have a very vocal side with lots of money and compelling stories endlessly pushing its agenda, as compromise begins to look a lot like a slow march toward whatever it is they want. What happened in Maryland is a good example of that.