Traffic accidents that take innocent lives are some of the most regrettable events anyone has to face. Recently, the Maryland legislature assed House Bill 363 that essential says drivers who are found guilty of being grossly negligent in fatal car crashes will be facing a new prison term option from courts across the state.
According to news reports, the general assembly approved the bill that calls for “grossly negligent” drivers who are determined to have caused a fatal traffic accident will be looking at mandatory jail time. Previously, even reckless drivers’ actions were found to have resulted in a deadly automobile or motorcycle crash were not always help to account for another person’s death.
Under Maryland’s current statutes, a motorist could be facing jail following a fatal car-bike crash, but only if it can be proven that the defendant was grossly negligent. Many experts have suggested that some of the state’s prosecuting attorneys feel gross negligence is an extremely high standard to reach in court. The approach, according to earlier reports, was to get lower the standard to something closer to “substantial deviation from the standard of care.”
Naturally, demonstrating “substantial negligence” is typically more difficult than “ordinary negligence,” however it is easier than meeting the standard for “gross negligence.” It has been suggested that the standard of substantial negligence would apply to more instances of, say, vehicular homicides in which the defendant was found to be going twice the speed limit on a winding country road, or passing a slower vehicle on a blind curve.
Nevertheless, the new jail-time penalties likely to be used by state and local prosecutors’ offices may begin to make a dent in what seems to have become the painful and all too common occurrence of deadly car-bicycle accidents. The goal, as suggested by many observers, is to thwart the sometimes reckless behavior of motorists and even to reduce or eliminate fatal biking accidents, not unlike the way that DWI and DUI laws have helped to reduce the number alcohol-related traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities.
As Maryland auto and motorcycle accident attorneys and Washington, D.C., injury lawyers, my office has seen the results of road accidents involving passenger cars, commercial trucks and bicycle riders enough to know that new laws designed to protect cyclists and pedestrians are a step in the right direction.
According to news reports, advocates of better bicycle safety laws here in Maryland and in the District have been lobbying for this latest vehicular manslaughter bill many long years. Even the American Automobile Association (AAA) has joined the fray and added its muscle to the effort. While prior years have seen the bill become mired in committee, the last-minute lobbying apparently paid off with passage in the state legislature.
Based on the news, the loss of congressional candidate, Natasha Pettigrew, who was killed in a hit-and-run bicycling accident last September, added to the impetus for the bill’s passage. Pettigrew’s mother had devoted much of her energy to gathering petition signatures and was apparently quite pleased that the legislation would soon become law.
Regardless, there is still much to be done before the roadways are safe for all bikers and pedestrians. Once the law is in place, then comes the enforcement and likely added public awareness campaigns to instill in motorists the possible penalties associated with killing another person through reckless or thoughtless actions.
Victims’ families, AAA push for stronger vehicular homicide law in Maryland, WashingtonPost.com, March 29, 2011