The Maryland Court of Appeals holds that Maryland’s implied consent law applies on private property

Title 16 of Maryland’s Transportation Article contains licensing requirements and license offenses. Included in this section is Maryland’s implied consent law (section 16-205.1), which requires drivers detained on suspicion of drunk driving to submit to an alcohol test and face license penalties for failing or refusing the test. The sections in Title 16 tend to have one thing in common: a license is only required to drive on “a highway or private property used by the public in general.” In other words, you can drive on purely private property without a driver’s license.

In the case of Loane v. Motor Vehicle Administration, the Court of Appeals considered the following sentence from section 16-205.1:

“[a]ny person who drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or on any private property that is used by the public in general in this State is deemed to have consented … to take a test if the person should be detained on suspicion of driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol….”

Despite what appears to be the plain language of the statute, the Court construed this section to apply on private property.

The Court gave a few reasons for its ruling. It said that the plain language of a statute is not always determinative of the statute’s meaning. That the statute must be looked at in the context of its purpose and other statutes dealing with the same subject matter. Here the Court concluded that since the drunk driving laws apply state-wide, including on private property, that it would be absurd to conclude that the implied consent laws don’t apply on private property.

The Court also dissected the language of the statute and concluded that the first phrase, which it called the “implied consent clause” provided that people who drive on “a highway or on any private property that is used by the public in general in this State” are the class of people who consent. It said that the second phrase, which it called the “applicability clause,” applied throughout the state. It noted that the statute did not say that “[a]ny person who is detained on suspicion of driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or on any private property that is used by the public in general in this State while under the influence of alcohol is deemed to have consented …” An earlier version of the statutory language was similarly not worded this way. The Court also said that the subsection of section 16-205.1 that lists the issues that can be raised at an administrative hearing does not list whether the person was driving on a highway or private property used by the public in general.

This writer thinks the Court got it wrong. The Court seemed to discount the plain meaning of the statute. The implied consent clause of the statute is limited to driving on a highway or private property used by the public in general for a very good reason, a driver’s license is not required to drive on private property. The statute is based on misuse of the license and the license is not being used on private property. While the statute may not have been worded the way the Court suggested, by the same token the legislature did not say that “licensees are deemed to have consented … if detained” The applicability of drunk driving on private property should be of no consequence. That was not the only distinction between the drunk driving laws and the implied consent statute. The implied consent statute also only applies to “motor vehicles” while the drunk driving laws apply to all vehicles. Again the distinction is a result of the requirement that drivers of “motor vehicles” be licensed. Thus under current law, a drunk driver of a bicycle may be prosecuted for drunk driving. But since a license is not required to drive a bicycle, arguably, a bicyclist, even with a driver’s license, is still not subject to the implied consent law if he or she is detained for drunk driving.

If I am right, the legislature will have to correct what the Court of Appeals did in the Loane case.