Driving while impaired is extremely dangerous. Although great strides have been made with drunk driving awareness in recent decades, it still claims far too many lives. In 2017, alcohol-impaired drivers caused 29% of traffic fatalities in the United States. Two years ago, the state of Maryland enacted new impaired driving laws to help reduce drunk driving rates and raise awareness regarding its dangers.
What is impaired Driving?
Impaired driving may include driving under the influence of:
- Alcohol. Depending on the situation, a citation may be issued for any amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. It’s always better not to drive if you’ve been drinking.
- Prescription drugs. Doctors usually warn you if a medication makes driving dangerous, but read all warnings and side effects carefully. If a prescription warns that you should not operate heavy machinery, this includes your car.
- Over the counter drugs. Decongestants, cough suppressants, and numerous other non-prescription medications can make you feel too drowsy to drive safely. Check the labels of these medications, too.
- Illicit drugs. Impaired driving incidents involving marijuana have become more common since it has trended toward legalization and increased availability.
Any substance, legal or illegal, that impairs your ability to drive can result in an impaired driving offense. According to the CDC, about 16% of car crashes are due to drugs other than alcohol.
What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?
You’ll often hear the terms DUI and DWI used interchangeably, though their legal meanings differ depending on jurisdiction. In the state of Maryland:
- DUI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol and applies when the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or higher.
- DWI means driving while impaired by alcohol, an offense which applies if blood alcohol is between 0.04-0.08%.
While a DWI is a lesser offense, it is still a very serious criminal charge. The penalties are even steeper if you cause a crash or are transporting a minor.
The Drunk Driving Reduction Act of 2016 (Noah’s Law)
In December 2015, Officer Noah Leotta was struck by a drunk driver while performing a field stop. The driver had two previous drunk driving offenses and had been drinking for hours at a nearby restaurant before the crash. Following this tragedy, Mayor Larry Hogan signed a law increasing penalties and expanding mandatory ignition interlocks for offenders. The General Assembly passed the law unanimously and it went into effect in October 2016. It is known as Noah's Law.
Current Penalties for DUI and DWI in Maryland
Fines, Jail Time, and Points
- First offense = up to $1,000 fine, a year in jail, plus 12 points on your license.
- Second offense = a $2,000 fine, mandatory 5-day jail sentence with imprisonment up to two years, and 12 points on your license.
- First offense = up to $500 fine and two months in jail, plus 8 points on your license.
- Second offense = up to $500 fine, one year in jail, and 8 points on your license.
Note that the above penalties are steeper for subsequent convictions. They are also harsher if the driver is under 21 or if the driver is transporting minors at the time of the violation.
Ignition Interlock Device Programs
Noah’s Law requires that certain drunk driving offenders use an ignition interlock device. Much like a breathalyzer, this system measures the driver’s blood alcohol concentration. The car will not start if the device detects alcohol. If the car successfully starts, the system occasionally asks for a rolling retest. This ensures that the current driver is the same person who passed the test initially.
The ignition interlock device is mandatory if you receive a DUI, a DWI while transporting a minor, or either charge if a serious crash occurs. If it is your first incident, you will use the device for six months. Second incidents require a year in the ignition interlock device program. Beyond that, each incident will require three years of participation. In some cases, you can ask to participate in this program in place of suspension.
In order to complete the program, you must remain free of violations three months after removal of the device from your car.
Noah’s Law also extended license suspensions for various offenses.
- BAC of 0.08-0.14 = 180 days for the first offense and subsequent offenses.
- BAC of 0.15 or above = 180 days for the first offense, 270 for subsequent offenses.
- Refusal of the test = 270 days for the first office, 2 years for subsequent offenses.
Penalties are harsher for those with previous convictions or license restrictions. Maryland continues to have a zero tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, too.
For More Details on Maryland Drunk Driving Laws
Please visit the MVA’s page on Maryland’s laws, including Noah's Law. Toward Zero Deaths Maryland also provides campaign materials for drunk driving awareness initiatives. Let’s work together to make our roads safer for everyone.