Stiffer penalties for distracted driving and an expansion of Maryland’s little known “move over” law have already seen action by Maryland lawmakers.
“Jakes’ Law,” legislation named after a five-year-old boy who was killed in an accident involving a texting driver, has been approved by both houses of the Maryland legislature but is presently in a conference committee where differences between the two bills are being worked out. Under the new law, drivers would be assessed 12 points against their driver’s license, would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could be subject to imprisonment for up to one year and a maximum fine of $5,000. In addition, the 10-year maximum sentence for manslaughter would apply.
Presently, a violator is subject to one point against their driving record and a $70 penalty unless the activity contributes to an accident; in that case, the penalty is $100 and three points assessed against the driver’s record.
In the accident involving Jake Owen, the at-fault driver was acquitted of manslaughter and reckless driving and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. Owen’s family campaigned for passage of the tougher law.
The bill also requires drivers to provide authorities with their cellphone numbers, the identity of the service carrier and any email address linked to the device if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person had been talking or texting at the time of the crash.
Maryland is one of 12 states that prohibit the use of handheld phones by all drivers.
Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration reports that from 2008 through 2012, there were 53,878 traffic crashes involving at least one distracted driver. Fatalities occurred in 229 of the accidents, while injuries resulted in 19,790 of the accidents.
The General Assembly has also passed a bill that requires drivers coming upon a properly registered tow truck that is stopped, standing or parked on a highway and using emergency lights to change lanes or, if a lane change cannot be made, to slow down – the same as is required when approaching an emergency vehicle with flashing lights that is stopped or parked. Violation is a misdemeanor carrying a $500 maximum fine. The bill is an expansion of the existing “move over” law which was passed in 2010 and was aimed at getting Maryland drivers to slow down or to move to another lane when coming upon an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance.
Current Maryland law requires drivers to move over to the next lane when they approach an emergency vehicle that is stopped on the side of the road with its lights on or to slow down if they are unable to move over.
Twenty-nine states, including Maryland, have enacted “move over” laws. Maryland is one of a handful of states that didn’t include tow trucks in its initial “move over” legislation.
While many are unaware of the law, the Motor Vehicle Administration has publicized the law on its highway monitors. But the law is enforced. According to a story in the Baltimore Sun, police issued more than 2400 citations in 2013 to those who failed to move over when coming upon emergency vehicles.