Is this the year Noah Law’s loophole closes? Activists push Maryland to prevent repeat drunk drivers

Maryland Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher says closing a loophole in Noah’s Law could save lives. (WTOP/John Domen)
A supporter of Noah's Law holds up a breathalyzer.
A supporter of Noah’s Law holds up a Breathalyzer test. (WTOP/John Domen)
The law is named after Montgomery County police Officer Noah Leotta, who was killed by a drunk driver. (WTOP/John Domen)
A supporter of Noah's Law holds up a breathalyzer.

More than half of those busted for drunk driving in Maryland aren’t ordered to get the one tool that’s supposed to be required at sentencing.

It’s a major loophole to what’s known as Noah’s Law, which itself took years to pass after Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta was killed by a repeat drunk driver. Now his father is trying again to close that loophole.

Under Noah’s Law, which passed in 2016, anyone convicted of drunk driving is required to get an ignition interlock put on the vehicle to prevent driving drunk again. But of the more than 10,000 people arrested for drunk driving last year in Maryland, many of them got what’s called probation before judgment — which is an admission of guilt without putting the conviction on the driving record. Thus, they aren’t required to get that ignition interlock put on their vehicle.

“Fifty-one percent have slipped through because of this,” said Rich Leotta, ahead of a hearing on the bill that once again aims to close that loophole in Maryland. It’s come close to passing several times in recent years, but never quite got through both chambers.

“If they don’t get it, it’s blood on their hands they continue to have dripping,” Leotta said. “They know that people are getting scot-free,” he added.

Joining Leotta in testifying in favor of the bills was Christine Nizer, Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administrator and Gov. Wes Moore’s Highway Safety Representative.

On average there are more than 6,600 impaired driving crashes

“Each year in Maryland … on average there are more than 6,600 impaired driving crashes resulting in nearly 3,000 injuries and 170 fatalities on our roadways,” Nizer said. “These statistics are not just numbers … These are mothers, brothers, sons.”

Nizer cited statistics from anti-drunk driving organizations that claim someone will drive drunk 80 times before they’re arrested for the first time, and another statistic that said the ignition interlocks reduce DUI recidivism by 67% compared to just suspending someone’s license.

In 2022, ignition interlocks stopped someone from starting or operating a vehicle while they were under the influence more than 3,600 times in Maryland, according to the state’s motor vehicle administration.

“All of those are an opportunity for somebody to be killed or injured,” Nizer said. “This legislation can save lives and help drivers who have violated our impaired driving laws.”

“This isn’t a punishment,” state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher argued, as he held up an interlock. “This is a tool to save lives.”

While the bill got a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday, lawmakers won’t start voting on it until later in the session. Last year, it passed the senate unanimously, but didn’t pass the house of delegates before the legislative session ended.

“Each time, there’s always one reason or another why this body of politics doesn’t seem to get it done,” Leotta said. “Either they want to save lives or they’re going to continue to have blood on their hands if they don’t pass the legislation this year.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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