Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan yesterday announced a holiday season crackdown on drunk driving, along with a package of recommendations intended, he said, to prevent more families "from having to suffer the agony of unnecessary deaths resulting from drunk driving."
Meanwhile, in neighboring Montgomery County, County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist told reporters that an existing program that uses police roadblocks to check for intoxicated drivers has been successful and may be expanded.
Hogan said Prince George's police will be instructed to give arrests for drunk driving "the highest priority" during the holiday season. "This county will not tolerate the senseless and reckless behavior that results" when people drive while drunk, he said.
Hogan made his announcement as he received the final report of the county's Drunk Driving Task Force. The 13-member group, including government officials, police, criminal justice experts and citizen representatives, was convened by Hogan in July to draw up recommendations for possible legislation for the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly. The group also suggested some administrative changes that do not require action by the legislature.
Among the recommendations for state-level action:
* That the minimum age for purchasing any type of alcohol be raised to 21. "The majority of arrests for driving under the influence occur in the 18-year-old group," said Wilbert Wilson, a Hogan aide who chaired the task force.
* That harsher penalties for convicted drunk drivers be instituted, including penalites for parents who allow minor children to drive while intoxicated.
* That sentencing judges be supplied with copies of a "victim impact statement," before they decide how to punish a drunk driver. "Every time you go into a courtroom you hear a judge say 'I'm going to give you a lenient sentence because you're going to have to live with this.' Well he doesn't -- we do," said task force member Thomas Sexton, whose 15-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver. "The judge has no idea what's happened to the family."
On the county level, the group urged the creation of a separate traffic unit within the police force that would enforce and investigate drunk driving charges full-time.
In Montgomery County, Gilchrist echoed Hogan's tough language, saying "We want the message to go forth -- if you're going to drink, don't drive in Montgomery County."
Gilchrist said that a new program of police checkpoints to scrutinize each passing driver for signs of drunkenness has resulted in 81 arrests since the surveillance began in November.