ANNAPOLIS – Three Southern Maryland lawmakers, concerned that roadside requests for cash in Waldorf are creating driving hazards, want to ban such soliciting statewide.
A bill introduced this week would make it illegal to hitchhike or to solicit money, donations, business, or employment from drivers on highways in Maryland.
Delegates Tim Hutchins, R-Charles, Van Mitchell, D-Charles, and Samuel Linton, D-Charles, proposed the legislation to outlaw cash collections on the medians and the shoulders of major highways.
“It impedes traffic, and it’s dangerous,” Linton said, “They’re in your way. There’s too much congestion out there to let people go out and solicit.”
But school groups, community clubs, and non-profit organizations that run fund-raisers along highways could lose income if they’re forced to move to secondary roads, or off the streets completely.
Lt. Anthony Palumbo of the St. Leonard Volunteer Fire Co. said he wasn’t happy about the bill.
“You give a service to the community, why can’t the community give something to you without a legal logistic to it?” he asked. Roadside solicitation might cause accidents by distracting drivers, said David Buck, Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman.
“People need to concentrate on driving, not on people on the side of the road soliciting,” he said.
The Charles County Sheriff’s Department requested the legislation – mainly to clear up problems along Route 301 in Waldorf.
“We simply see it as a public safety issue. More and more people, not just charities, are seeking donations,” said Craig Renner, sheriff’s office spokesman, attributing the increase in solicitations to the rapid growth in the county.
The bill would give state and local authorities the right to prohibit hitchhiking and solicitation, except in the case of a car wreck. Drivers with a disabled vehicle could still ask for help from passers-by.
The legislation would only apply to “controlled-access highways,” which include interstates and major expressways with few intersections and traffic lights, such as U.S. Route 50 and the Capital Beltway. It will not affect smaller highways and secondary roads.
Roadside solicitation is a particular problem near Waldorf, where U.S. Route 301 and state Route 5 meet, Linton said.
“They call it malfunction junction,” he joked.
Route 301 and Route 5 are controlled access only in some areas.
If the bill forces his company to move its collections, Palumbo said he doesn’t know what it will do. His company has earned thousands of dollars from past boot drives, where a firefighter holds out his work boot to drivers in hopes of collecting cash.
His volunteer firefighters prefer to get support from their community, and they would not want to have to move the boot drive into another fire company’s jurisdiction. “It’s like you’re invading somebody’s space,” Palumbo said. – 30 – CNS-2-4-00