Maryland's drunk driving death toll is too high

Drunk driving continues to be a serious public safety problem in Maryland. Although the death rate from drunk driving has declined in recent years, far too many Maryland citizens continue to die in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the 10-year period from 2003 through 2012, motor vehicle accidents involving drunk drivers claimed the lives of 1,716 people in Maryland. On a national level, about one out of every three auto accident deaths involves a drunk driver.

Stricter laws have helped bring about some reduction in drunk driving deaths. In every state, driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more is illegal. Maryland is one of the states that allows police to set up sobriety checkpoints to get drunk drivers off the road. Maryland also requires some drunk drivers, including repeat offenders, to have ignition interlock devices installed on their vehicles. These devices require the driver to blow into a breath test machine before starting the car; if the driver's blood alcohol level exceeds a certain level the car will not start.

A drunk driver who causes a fatal accident faces serious criminal charges and can receive a lengthy prison sentence if convicted. But the criminal law system can do little to help the Maryland families who have lost loved ones as a result of a drunk driving accident. That is the role of the civil law system. In a civil lawsuit for wrongful death, surviving family members can seek monetary damages for loss of financial support and loss of companionship. Compensation for funeral expenses and final medical expenses can also be recovered. In addition, punitive damages -- which are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from similar conduct -- are often assessed against drunk drivers in civil cases.

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