Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is once again urging legislators to stiffen penalties for underage drunk drivers after this year's attempt failed.
Under the governor's proposal, to be introduced in January, drivers younger than 21 would lose their licenses for at least three years if convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"The governor is committed to making our roads safer," said Henry P. Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich (R). "If we can prevent one tragic death by passing this legislation, it's worth it."
First lady Kendel S. Ehrlich advocated for the bill yesterday during an annual memorial ceremony in Annapolis for victims of accidents involving impaired drivers.
"Impaired driving has become a national epidemic, a critical public health issue," Kendel Ehrlich said, according to a copy of her remarks provided by the governor's office. "Impaired driving crashes touch us all, and it is a crime that knows no social boundaries, nor does it discriminate among its victims."
Last year, 110 people 13 to 20 years old were killed in Maryland motor vehicle accidents, up from 106 in 2003, according to the National Center on Health Statistics. It is not known how many of those deaths involved drunken driving, but nationwide, almost 30 percent of drivers 15 to 20 who died last year in auto accidents had been drinking, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Versions of Ehrlich's bill were passed by the House and the Senate this year, but a committee appointed to reconcile the two was unable to reach a compromise, Fawell said. The House bill sought a three-year suspension of licenses; the Senate bill called for a one-year suspension, he said.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said most of his colleagues back tougher penalties for underage drunk drivers, but he said the governor's proposal went too far.
"We had some concerns that it was too inflexible," Frosh said. "You might have someone that at 16 makes a terrible mistake and as a result . . . loses the ability to find or keep a job."
Other provisions of Ehrlich's safe-driving initiative became law last year. Teenage drivers who obtain licenses are required now to hold a learner's permit for six months, rather than four. And their licensees can be suspended for as much as 90 days for violating seat belt and curfew restrictions during their first six months behind the wheel.