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Maryland bills would protect children in cars

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Local,Maryland,Transportation,Crime,Rachel Baye

Maryland lawmakers have filed two measures aimed at protecting children while they are in cars.

The first proposal, by state Del. Sam Arora, D-Silver Spring, would require people caught driving drunk -- with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08 -- with a minor in the car to install an ignition breathalyzer in their car. The device would not allow the car to start unless the breathalyzer determines that a driver is sober.

"It's sort of a greater offense to drive drunk with a kid in the car," Arora said. "The philosophy behind that is kids really don't have a choice."

Though a similar bill was not brought to a committee vote last year, Arora said he is optimistic that he will have better luck this year since the new bill is slimmed down and simpler.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is backing the proposal, said Ragina Averella, the auto club's manager of public and government affairs in Maryland. She pointed to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showing that in 2009, 181 children under the age of 14 were involved in alcohol-related crashes, and in the same year, alcohol-related accidents accounted for 14 percent of all traffic deaths among children.

Another measure lawmakers are expected to take up in January would prohibit smoking in cars containing children younger than 8 years old.

"Little kids' lungs are developing," said state Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Rockville, one of the bill's sponsors. "It's bad enough to be smoking in a house, but in a closed-up area like that where the kids cannot escape?"

Forehand became a vocal advocate of smoking bans after her father, who never smoked but worked in an office where everyone else did, died from emphysema and lung cancer. A member of the state legislature for 34 years, she is famous for hiding the ash trays in committee rooms and the state House and Senate chambers back in the days when smoking was allowed in the buildings.

But last year, the bill did not get past the House of Delegates' Environmental Matters Committee. Forehand blamed bad timing for the failure.

State Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, opposed the bill when it was in the Senate committee last year partly because of what he called "loopholes."

The bill doesn't allow people to smoke in a convertible or with the windows down, which is what his mom used to do, he said. "And what do you do when they get home and they're smoking in the kitchen and they're all over the house? Do you want to go in the house now?"

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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