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Will D.C. adopt one of the most stringent distracted driving laws in the nation?

Maryland has adopted a relatively firm stance when it comes to distracted driving. Indeed, state law dictates that no licensed driver may use a "text messaging device" to send, read or write messages behind the wheel (with the exception of contacting 911), classifying this as a primary offense punishable by fines and even license suspension if the driver is under 18.

State law adopts a similarly hard-line stance against using a handheld device to talk behind the wheel, with licensed adult drivers essentially confined to the use of hands-free devices (with the exception of starting or ending a call, turning the phone on and off, or contacting 911). For their part, licensed drivers under 18 are banned from using both handheld devices and hands-free devices (with the exception of calling 911), meaning no talking while driving in any capacity. 

As stringent as Maryland's approach may seem, recent reports indicate that lawmakers in the nation's capital are inching ever closer to adopting a bill that, if passed, would result in our neighbor having one of the strictest stances toward distracted driving in the entire country -- particularly as it pertains to repeat offenders.  

What exactly is called for by this distracted driving bill?

The measure currently under consideration by the D.C. Council calls for distracted driving penalties to escalate within an 18-month timeframe, with a first-offense resulting in a $100 fine, a second-offense resulting in a $150 fine, and a third-offense resulting in both a $200 fine and license suspension of 30 to 90 days.

The measure would also eliminate a current provision that allows first-time offenders to have the fine suspended if they present evidence that they've acquired a hands-free device since being issued the citation.

How is the bill being viewed by vehicle safety advocacy groups?

The response to the measure has been somewhat mixed. For example, AAA indicated that while it supports the measure, it also has concerns that it focuses too much on just one aspect of the distracted driving epidemic -- repeat offenders -- and is unclear as to whether motorists ticketed for distracted driving in other jurisdictions would be subject to the same escalating penalty framework.

Will the bill pass?

It remains unclear whether the D.C. Council will pass the bill next month. That's largely because of the aforementioned concerns and the fact that funds needed to implement the three-strikes distracted driving law wouldn't be available until 2020.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you have been seriously injured or lost a family member because of the actions of a distracted motorist, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can fight to secure justice on your behalf.

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