Should “Super Drunk” Drivers Pay More in Punitive Damages? Maryland Senate Says Yes.

if you follow DUI law, you might know that there are drunks and super drunks. The latter is a legal designation, though it varies by state. In Maryland, someone who registers a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 percent or more – about twice Maryland’s legal .07 limit – is legally super drunk.

The Maryland Senate just passed a bill allowing the survivors of those killed by super drunk drivers to recover large sums via lawsuit.

What’s the rationale? Up to now, if an extremely drunk driver were to kill someone, he or she might only be liable to pay for damage to the car and funeral expenses. To the family of the victim, such leniency might seem like a bad joke.

Compensation is one reason for the bill, which was sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin. Another is that it would provide leverage to law enforcement. Under the bill, drunk drivers who refuse a sobriety test would be presumed to be super drunk, leaving them liable to severe penalties and liabilities.

Keep in mind that the bill has not passed yet – it still has to go to the House, which tends to defeat such bills. Some question the bill’s ability to deter drunk drivers – if an offender is not discouraged by fines and prison time, the additional civil liability won’t do the trick. And it has to be noted that someone with a BAC of, say, .20 is not making rational decisions anyway.

While this measure highlights the damage that drunk drivers can do – and this damage is often devastating – it’s probably shouldn’t have been a priority. Maryland still does not require ignition interlocks for first DUI offenders. Requiring the devices – which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – has been proven successful at preventing drunk driving recidivism. Large civil settlements have no such record of proof behind them.

For this reason, Noah’s Law has been introduced in the Maryland Legislature. The law, named after Noah Leotta, a policeman who was killed by a drunk driver, would strengthen the state’s ignition interlock requirements.

It’s important to compensate the victims of impaired driving, but it would be better for Maryland to beef up its ignition interlock laws so fewer people become victims. That is why Noah’s Law is the one that public safety advocates will be watching in Maryland these next few weeks.