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Law would criminalize distracted driving traffic offenses

Maryland legislators are considering a new measure that would increase the penalties for drivers who are distracted behind the wheel. Lawmakers have introduced a new measure named after a child who was killed by an alleged distracted driver. The new regulation would increase penalties for distracted driving crashes. Injurious or fatal crashes that involve distracted driving would be considered misdemeanor traffic offenses punishable by a three-year jail term and thousands of dollars in courtroom fines.

Officials say they have dubbed the measure 'Jake's Law' in memory of a child who died during a December 2011 distracted-driving wreck. The child was sitting in the back seat of a vehicle when it was rear-ended in heavy traffic on an interstate on-ramp. The 24-year-old at-fault driver reportedly admitted to using his phone shortly before the wreck. The young boy perished in the crash, and his sister suffered serious injury.

The driver in that case was only subject to a $1,000 fine for the alleged traffic violations. He had originally been charged with criminally negligent homicide. Lawmakers say that a loophole in the law allows distracted drivers to walk away from fatal accidents without appropriate punishment in criminal court.

Criminalizing distracted driving seems to be a popular decision; about three in four Maryland residents agree that distracted driving penalties should include fines and time in custody. That opinion persists despite the fact that about seven in 10 Maryland residents admit to using their phones while behind the wheel. Still, many residents equate distracted driving with drunk driving, and they argue that the penalties should be similar for both offenses.

This bill has only been introduced in the legislature, and it has not yet been approved. Criminal defendants who are accused of distracted driving therefore do not have to worry about such penalties at this time, though the law could definitely have a future impact. Defendants may benefit from additional information provided by a Maryland criminal defense attorney.

Source: WBAL TV 11, "Advocates push Jake's Law on distracted driving" Lowell Melser, Feb. 27, 2014

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