Maryland’s new laws enacted this year by the state’s legislature and signed by the governor include a bill also backed by his stepdaughter, a St. Mary’s prosecutor who has long sought tougher penalties for repeat impaired drivers.
The Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act of 2019 also drew support from traffic-safety advocates, including testimony in support that focused in part on the high percentage of fatal collisions that involve people previously convicted of impaired-driving offenses.
St. Mary’s Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Jaymi Sterling, the office’s chief of staff, said during a recent interview at her office in the county courthouse that the proposal achieved its passage by merging bills coming from the legislature and Gov. Larry Hogan (R), her stepfather. “They combined both ideas, and it’s one law,” Sterling said.
Maryland has two levels of offenses for “drunk or drugged driving,” as described in the legislation, with a lesser offense of driving while impaired, DWI, and a more serious offense of driving under the influence, DUI.
While the maximum penalties for a first and second DWI or DUI offense remain unchanged under the new law, the maximum penalty for a third DUI offense has increased from three to five years in prison, and the maximum penalty for any and all subsequent DUI offenses has increased from three years to 10.
During a hearing before the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee, Kurt G. Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, testified in part, according to his prepared remarks, that “drivers with prior convictions for driving while impaired by alcohol are overrepresented among drivers in fatal traffic crashes,” as evidenced in 2015 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that impaired drivers involved in those collisions were more than four times more likely to have prior convictions for driving while impaired than drivers in those crashes who had consumed no alcohol.
Sterling said the new law also addresses the issue of those driving while under the influence of prescription medication.
“This is a law that I have been [advocating] for more than three years,” she said. “We have more than tripled the maximum penalty.”