TOWSON, MD (February 6, 2019) –– AAA Mid-Atlantic will be in Annapolis today and tomorrow to support traffic safety legislation that addresses two dangers on our roadways – impaired drivers and distracted drivers. The auto club will also oppose legislation that could hinder transportation projects designed to ease traffic congestion.
As the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR) hears testimony today at noon for proposed legislation related to vehicle laws and traffic safety, AAA Mid-Atlantic will be weighing in.
SB 163- Vehicle Laws – Drunk and Drugged Driving – Subsequent Offenders – Felonies (Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act of 2019), which is sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Jr., (D - District 27, Prince George's, Charles and Calvert Counties) and more than a dozen other Senators, at the request of Governor Hogan’s Administration seeks to increase penalties for repeat drunk and drugged driving offenders.
This bill, if passed, will increase the penalties for repeat impaired driving offenders, who have been previously convicted of three or more alcohol or drugged driving-related offenses. It will also increase penalties for those who have been previously convicted of vehicular homicide, manslaughter, or causing a life-threatening injury by motor vehicle or vessel.
A repeat offender under this law would be guilty of a felony and upon conviction would be subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years.
“Driving is a privilege and those who take that privilege lightly and put the lives of others in harm’s way deserve to be punished accordingly,” commented Ragina Cooper Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 37,133 people killed in traffic crashes in 2017. In Maryland, 557 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2017. Of those killed, 188 fatalities were due to crashes involving a drunk or drugged driver, and 3,208 people were injured as a result of impaired drivers, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office.
In a recent AAA Mid-Atlantic transportation poll, 24 percent of Maryland motorists indicated that drunk or drugged driving was their number one traffic safety concern.
The auto club will also support the cross-filed bill, HB 230, which will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee next Wednesday, February 13.
Tomorrow, in the House Environment and Transportation (E&T) Committee, AAA will be supporting HB 89 - Vehicle Laws – Use of Handheld Telephone While Driving – Penalty introduced by Delegates Eric Ebersole (D-District 12, Baltimore and Howard Counties) and Vanessa Atterbeary (D-District 13, Howard County). If passed, the bill would increase the maximum fine to $500 for violation of Maryland’s handheld telephone ban while driving a motor vehicle law.
“Despite laws forbidding the activity, unfortunately, on any given day, on any given roadway across our state, you can still see motorists continuing to talk and text on their handheld cell phones while driving,” said Averella.
Distracted driving continues to be the top safety concern of Maryland drivers, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic’s 2018-2019 traffic safety poll, where 37 percent of Maryland drivers surveyed cited distracted driving as their top traffic safety concern.
According to the Maryland Highway Safety Office, there were 219 fatalities in 2017 where driver distraction was a factor and nearly 28,000 (27,936) persons were injured as a result of distracted driving.
Currently, it is illegal to write, send, or read a text or electronic message while driving. It is also illegal to use a handheld cell phone while driving. Penalties for violating these laws range from one to three points on the offenders driving record and fines range from $70 to $160. Even with these laws and penalties in place, the overall number of crashes caused by distracted drivers has risen 7% in Maryland from 52,625 in 2012 to 56,280 in 2016 and in an average year, 158 Marylanders lose their lives.
“We are hopeful that passing this legislation will be another step toward changing drivers’ behaviors and attitudes on distracted driving. The revised law, if passed, will be another tool in our traffic safety tool box that will ideally deter distracted driving and make Maryland’s roads safer,” Averella said. Seventy-six percent of Maryland drivers polled in the AAA Mid-Atlantic’s 2018-2019 traffic safety poll, indicated they would support legislation to strengthen distracted driving penalties.
Also on Thursday in E&T, AAA Mid-Atlantic will oppose HB 102 - Toll Roads, Highways, and Bridges – County Government Consent Requirement – Expansion, introduced by lead sponsor Delegate Brooke E. Lierman (D- District 46, Baltimore City) et al. HB 102 would grant counties and Baltimore City the authority to prohibit a State agency from constructing a toll road, highway or bridge without the consent of a majority of the affected counties/jurisdictions.
If passed, the bill could delay, halt or even cancel several important transportation projects, such as the Governor’s Traffic Relief Plan, which includes an expansion to I-270, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295). “These projects are essential to relieving congestion and providing a safe and efficient transportation system for Marylanders,” said Averella.
AAA Mid-Atlantic recognizes the significant efforts that have been made to improve roadways, reduce traffic and improve traffic safety under the current administration, however continued growth in the state has caused congestion on Maryland’s roads to spread and persist. “With Maryland expected to see significant population growth over the next few decades, congestion on major highways across the state will worsen and has the potential to bring our region to a standstill if we do not address it, which is why we can ill-afford efforts to stall transportation projects that are underway,” Averella concluded.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to over 59 million members nationwide and more than 982,000 members in Maryland. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit AAA.com.