Friday, May 27, 2011

Police Have Sober Hopes for Drunken, Distracted Driving This Weekend

TOM RISEN ¦ Staff Writer

(May 27, 2011) Memorial Day is here, and Ocean City police are keeping an eye out for unsafe summer traffic with the hope that newly approved police powers and laws could make their jobs easier.

One recently passed law, Senate Bill 424, grants police more discretion on what constitutes distracted driving, which means officers may stop drivers for texting on their cell phones while driving.

The Ocean City Police Department also keeps an eye out for other distracted driving moves such as changing the car stereo or eating while driving, according to Jessica Waters, public affairs specialist for the department.

“As a resort town, Ocean City is already so distracting, and now we have people on mopeds and scooters, so more than ever we need our drivers to be vigilant,” Waters said. “The new law is helpful since it gives police more reason to enforce it. I hope it means I write fewer press releases about fatalities from distracted or drunk drivers hitting pedestrians.”

Another new law mandates Breathalyzer interlocks to start a car for repeat drunken driving offenders. The law focuses on drunken drivers under age 21 and drivers with a blood alcohol content of at least .15 BAC. The legal definition of drunken driving is .08 blood alcohol content.

Waters said the law might cut down on drunken driving somewhat, but Ocean City is a resort destination where many visitors come to drink while on vacation. These visitors might not have previously been convicted of drunken driving.

Ocean City’s annual driving under the influence arrest numbers have not changed much in recent years. In 2010, there were 360 driving under the influence arrests; in 2009, there were 368; in 2008, there were 322; in 2007 there were 326; and in 2006 there were 344.

“We have the alternative forms of transportation and numerous taxi companies, but we still see high numbers,” Waters said.

Ocean City bus tickets are $1 per pickup or $3 for a whole day and night of rides. Employees at bars often have information about taxi services.

People mandated to have an interlock under the law who are arrested driving without one are subject to up to a year in prison and up to $1,000 fine, with a maximum $2,000 fine and up to two years in prison for a second offense. That offense is the same as the penalty for driving without a license.

Resort police are still likely to see a high holiday turnout, as approximately 644,000 Marylanders are expected to take to the road this Memorial Day holiday, according to Ragina C. Averella, manager of public affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving had supported a competing interlock law proposal that would have required firsttime drunken driving offenders to accept an ignition interlock as a condition of keeping their license.

A statement made by Anna Duerr, spokeswoman for the advocacy group’s Maryland office, asked vacationers to “designate a sober driver before festivities begin,” but took a sober outlook on the compromise made by the General Assembly.

“Unfortunately, Maryland’s recentlypassed ignition interlock law only addresses part of the drunk driving problem, so MADD will continue to work towards life-saving legislation to keep American families safer on our roads,” Duerr stated.

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