Drastic Drunk Driving After-Effects
Lillian DeVenny drove two hours this week over icy roads from her Virginia Beach home to Richmond to give state legislators a message: Put drunken drivers in jail.
In Annapolis, Dot Sexton of Prince George's County and Geraldine Donald of Anne Arundel County--both of whom had teen-age children killed by drunken drivers--told legislative committees this week that Maryland's drinking age should be raised from 18 to 21 or that drunk driving laws should be tougher.
In the District, council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) recently introduced a bill she said would treat drunken drivers like "dangerous weapons." Under her proposal a 160-pound man who consumed two standard shots of 86-proof whiskey in an hour should have enough liquor in his body to be presumed drunk.
The effects of drunk driving has become a political issue this year, when all legislators in Maryland and Virginia and about half of D.C.'s council members face reelection.
"Today is my daughter Carrie's birthday," DeVenny, the vice president of Virginia's MADD, said at a Wednesday press conference organized by Sen. A. Joe Canada (R-Virginia Beach) to announce his introduction of one of the toughest drunken driving bills in the nation. "She was killed by a drunk driver."
Canada is one of three Virginia legislators introducing drunken driving bills modeled on new California laws prompted by a MADD campaign. California officials said its laws, which include mandatory jail terms and license suspensions, led to a 43 percent reduction in traffic deaths during the New Year's holiday.
In Maryland, the measure to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21 for beer and light wine has the support of most key legislators and Gov. Harry Hughes. That age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1974. But with recent statistics suggesting that the 18- to 20-year-old age group is causing many of the nation's alcohol-related fatalities, there is a push to raise the drinking age to 21 again. Other tougher drunken driving laws also have been proposed.
"They will pass because it's an election year," says Maryland Sen. Victor Crawford (D-Montgomery). "Who wants to be known as voting against drunk driving bills?"
In Virginia, legislators have argued in the past that tougher effects of drunk driving would crowd jails and put social drinkers--some of whom are respectable citizens--in jail for what many regard as minor offenses. This year, however, legislators in Richmond say the mounting public pressure may give tougher legislation a better-than-usual chance of passing.
"I sense a favorable feeling," said Del. Dorothy McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), a senior member of the Northern Virginia delegation. Del. Warren Barry (R-Fairfax), who for years has argued for stricter laws governing the sale of liquor to youths, is not as optimistic.