Today marks the 24th day of this year’s Legislative Session. I am prepared to offer several pieces of legislation next week, and I’ve been working diligently to gain support for my legislative proposals. I’ve also been working with my colleagues, attending hearings, and meeting with stakeholders to hear about the wide range of issues that are before the General Assembly this session. This week’s highlights include:
Jake's Law - Cell Phone Use and Driving
On December 28, 2011, a family was on their way to the mall to exchange some Christmas presents when they were struck from behind by a Jeep SUV. The driver of that SUV was using his cell phone and going 62 miles per hour. At the exact time of the accident, the driver was so distracted that he hit the car without ever applying his brakes. The driver didn't see that the traffic had stopped for a previous accident. The result of the accident was the death of a five year old boy named Jake and serious injuries for his father and sister. When the driver went to court for the accident, the driver received only a fine of $1,000.
As nation, we struggle with the issues related to the use of cell phones while driving. Laws have been put in place to ensure people put a halt to this behavior, yet we continue to hear of accidents that result from drivers distracted by cell phones. Many Marylanders still ignore the prohibitions against texting and driving, or failing to use a hands free device when speaking on the phone in the car.
The driver in Jake's case was not charged with vehicular manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, because that crime requires that the death occur because the driver acted in a “grossly negligent manner.” Courts have held that talking on a cell phone and driving does not rise to that standard.
The driver was charged with “criminal negligence," a 2011 law that says a person driving a vehicle may not cause the death of another if they act in a "criminally negligent” way. The standard for “criminal negligence” is nearly identical to “gross negligence.” The driver in Jake’s case was found not to have been criminally negligent – so he did not face the three year penalty for that crime either. The driver was convicted of two payable traffic tickets and was not subject to jail time despite the fact that a family was shattered while the driver talked on the phone.
Using a cell phone without a hands free device and driving creates an unacceptable risk to our friends and neighbors with whom we share the road. Furthermore, if you are texting and driving – there is no doubt that you are distracted driving. Studies show that texting and driving reaches the same level of impairment and distraction as a drunk driver.
I will be introducing legislation that will provide jail time for drivers who are on their cell phones and cause accidents that result in death or serious bodily injury of another. I will be seeking co-sponsors for the legislation over the next week and I will provide more information as the bill progresses.
Baltimore Group Visiting Annapolis
Every year I have featured a different artist from the district whose work hangs in my office during the legislative session. This year, I will be featuring the photographs of the Viewfinders. The Baltimore United Viewfinders is a multimedia arts group made up of 8 middle and high school students. They come from different after-school programs located within the East Baltimore area. The Viewfinders are guided by a team of co-facilitators who serve as mentors for the youth. The group uses pictures and videos to document and tell stories of their community; by doing so they promote personal and communal identity. The organization seeks to activate social change through the art of storytelling.
The Viewfinders will be coming to Annapolis on February 14th, with their Director, Anne Kotleba to tour the legislative complex and watch their elected officials at work. The picture in this week's legislative update is from one of the Viewfinder's members, Michael. If you want to find out more about The Viewfinders, check out their website: http://baltimoreviewfinders.org/.