ANNAPOLIS – A new measure designed to curb aggressive driving would make motorists who kill another driver through their own recklessness guilty of a new crime – homicide by aggressive driving.
“We are all aware of aggressive driving on our highways,” said Delegate Pauline Menes, D-Prince George’s, House sponsor of the new legislation. “Every one of us has seen it and been afraid of it.”
There may be public support for a crackdown on drivers who weave from lane to lane, speed wildly and tailgate – a recent AAA survey found Maryland motorists fear aggressive drivers more than anything else on the road, even though many admit to driving dangerously themselves.
The bill will be considered when the General Assembly convenes next month. If it passes and is signed by the governor, jail time and a fine would be in store for motorists involved in fatal accidents caused by their committing three or more of seven specific traffic violations.
The violations included in the bill are red light running, speeding, sudden lane changes, passing on the right, tailgating, failing to yield the right-of-way and violating other lane rules.
In the AAA survey, 44 percent of Maryland drivers said they are more worried by tailgating, reckless speeding, rage behavior and darting across lanes than any other roadway danger. However, more than 32 percent confess to driving more than 20 mph over the limit and one in four said they were guilty of tailgating, weaving or making abrupt lane changes.
In addition, more than 83 percent said they had seen someone driving aggressively and that it endangered them or other drivers. More than 55 percent said they think the problem has grown in the past year.
“Clearly aggressive driving is an increasing problem,” said John White, public and government relations manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “From the survey we can see that aggressive driving is something that drivers are aware of and something they admit to doing.”
A stronger version of Menes’ bill, which required at-fault drivers to commit only two violations of 17 specified ones, died in committee last session after some legislators worried about punishing people for an inadvertent crash.
Menes said she has addressed those concerns in the new version by narrowing the offenses to only the most significant aggressive driving violations and increasing the number needed to become eligible for the new charge.
The concern last session was about increasing penalties for something that is an accident. Menes said the law deals with accidents differently because there is no intent, but her bill specifies that a driver must cause a death while committing three other serious driving offenses.
“Even if there is no clear intention, doing three things that are violations of the law puts you as more responsible and gives them more responsibility,” Menes said. “You can forgive someone for an accident, but not for three things.”
Menes said her bill has a better chance for passage this session because it has a good level of support and there is a feeling among legislators that something should be done about aggressive driving. Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, is the sponsor of a similar bill in the Senate.
However, White said, legislation alone won’t solve the problem. He pointed to three things that if done in combination would make Maryland’s roadways safer: legislation, expanding roadways to reduce congestion and public education.
“Increasing congestion leads to increasing frustration and stress,” he said, “which leads to an increase in aggressive driving.”