TOWSON, MD (Thursday, September 28, 2017) –– Beginning Sunday, October 1, a number of new traffic-related laws will take effect across the State. While one will increase penalties for vehicular homicides involving impaired drivers, two others focus on service-related vehicles.
HB 635/Chapter 168 - Homicide by Motor Vehicle or Vessel While Impaired by Controlled Dangerous Substance – Penalties, which AAA Mid-Atlantic supported, increases the maximum jail time for vehicular homicide or homicide by vessel while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), from three to five years. The bill also increases from five to ten years, the maximum jail time for those previously convicted of vehicular homicide or homicide by vessel while impaired by CDS, or several other serious offenses.
“Tragically, drugged driving fatalities are becoming more and more prevalent on our roadways, even eclipsing alcohol-related fatalities,” stated Ragina Cooper Averella, Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility Study released stats this spring, showing that for the first time, 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal crashes in 2015 had used a legal or illegal drug, compared to 37 percent who tested above the legal limit for alcohol.
HB 889/Chapter 748 - Vehicle Laws - HOV Lanes - Tow Trucks allows properly registered tow trucks to be driven in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes while responding to a call for service, regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle, and even if the motorist is in a location other than the HOV lane itself. Prior authorization from Maryland State Police must be secured before a tow truck can enter the lane. With the exception of buses, motorcycles, and plug-in electric vehicles with permits, the previous law did not allow vehicles with less than one passenger in HOV lanes.
“AAA Mid-Atlantic advocated for the change this session in an effort to give tow truck providers access to the lanes, when responding to a call for service, enabling them to come to the aid of disabled motorists more expeditiously, thus reducing congestion and the dangers motorists face when they are stuck on the side of the roadway,” stated Averella. “Passage of this bill will benefit, and even help protect, all stranded motorists needing a tow truck,” she stated.
Congested roadways can often present a challenge in aiding disabled motorists in a timely fashion. Last year, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s roadside assistance crews came to the rescue of 2.1 million disabled motorists, with over 555,000 emergency roadside calls in Maryland alone. Four other states (Arizona, California, New Jersey and Texas) already allow tow trucks HOV access when responding to calls for service.
HB 952/Chapter 753 - Waste and Recycling Collection Vehicles also takes effect on Sunday. This law authorizes waste or recycling collection vehicles to be equipped with or display yellow or amber lights or signal devices in the course of official duties, to indicate to the public that the vehicle is slow moving and/or may impede traffic.
Another law which already took effect this summer, but warrants a reminder is HB 494/Chapter 749 - Use of Fog Lights When Windshield Wipers Operating. This law repeals the use of a vehicle’s fog lights and instead requires use of headlights when the vehicle’s windshield wipers are in operation during inclement weather.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research recently issued a report (Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries and Deaths in Relation to Weather Conditions) that analyzed bad weather and crashes throughout the year. The report found that rain, snow, sleet and fog were a factor in more than 1.1 million police-reported crashes nationwide, with 425,000 injuries and 5,100 traffic deaths per year.
Requiring motorists to turn on their headlights when their windshield wipers are on, instead of fog lights, will help increase visibility for oncoming motorists, as well as motorists behind a vehicle. Because the tail lights will also be illuminated, this law will help alert drivers of the presence of vehicles on the roadways during inclement weather and when visibility is reduced.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 57 million members nationwide and more than 937,000 members in Maryland. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit AAA.com.