CHEVY CHASE – Addressing the spate of pedestrian deaths statewide, lawmakers and law enforcers said Tuesday they hope two state laws taking effect Friday will deter dangerous drivers with increased fines and enable police officers to spend more time on the roads by reducing their time in court.
Motorists cited for failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk will no longer have to appear in court. Instead, the new law allows them the option of paying a $65 fine and accepting one point against their driver’s license.
The new law will allow police officers to enforce traffic laws without worrying that such citations will cost them numerous hours in court and keep them out on the streets where they are needed, said Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger at a news conference at Rock Creek Forest Elementary in Chevy Chase Tuesday.
Neither law enforcement officials nor state legislators could say how many pedestrian-related driving citations go through the system each year or how many hours of court time they take up, but Manger estimated under the old law for every 40-or-so citations an officer might issue, he or she might spend roughly three hours in court.
Another new driving law doubles the maximum penalty for drivers who fail to stop for school vehicles from $500 to $1,000.
Montgomery County last year sent out 1,000 warnings to drivers who failed to stop for school buses, after the bus drivers reported the violations. Police issued another 663 school bus citations in 2003 and 382 through July of this year.
Silver Spring resident and mother of five Jennifer Salisbury attended the news conference and praised the new laws, but said they are only a start.
Salisbury, who walks her children to school each day, said she’s nearly been hit in the crosswalks. But she also had some strong words for school bus drivers who often travel too fast. One such driver once honked at her while she walked in the crosswalk with her baby, she said. She was in front of the school and had the right of way at the time.
“Some of the school bus drivers drive so fast it makes you wonder what their driving is like when they aren’t at work and they don’t have bus full of kids,” she said.
More traffic laws are needed to make pedestrians and drivers safer, said several Maryland lawmakers at the news conference.
Delegate William Bronrott, D-Montgomery, sponsor of the non-court option law, pointed to figures from the Maryland State Highway Administration that punctuate the safety issue. According to Bronrott, 544 pedestrians were killed and 15,309 were injured statewide between 1999 and 2003.
Bronrott said he hopes the General Assembly will revisit the speed camera legislation vetoed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich in 2003.
And, in the wake of five teen traffic deaths in the county over the weekend, Bronrott also said he wants to limit the number of non-family, under-18 passengers provisional drivers may transport.
Manger, too, acknowledging the teens’ deaths, saying such legislation is essential. -30- CNS-9-28-04