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'Jake’s Law' Crackdown on Deadly Cell Phone Use Passes First Hurdle

About 28 percent of Maryland drivers texted while driving in the past six months, according to a recent poll.

Distracted driving laws are under review in the Maryland General Assembly, which could increase fines and add prison time. (Credit: Verona Patch)
Distracted driving laws are under review in the Maryland General Assembly, which could increase fines and add prison time. (Credit: Verona Patch)

A driver talking on his cellphone crashed into a Baltimore family’s car, killing their 5-year-old son. Maryland law only allowed for a $1,000 fine in the case.

As a result, “Jake’s Law” was proposed to increase the penalties faced by Maryland drivers found guilty of causing a serious or fatal crash while using a cellphone. A Maryland House of Delegates committee gave its approval late Wednesday night to the bill, says The Washington Post.

The proposal would make causing a fatal accident while using a cellphone a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The bill is named for Jake Owen, a Baltimore native who died when a driver crashed into his family’s car on Dec. 28, 2011. The other driver, a 23-year-old man who was talking on his cellphone, never noticed traffic around him had stopped for a previous accident on Interstate 83.

The driver was charged with negligent driving and failure to control speed to avoid collision—punishable by a total of $1,000 in fines. While he had also been charged with vehicular manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, he was not convicted.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 18 to 3 on Wednesday to give the bill a favorable report, as long as a few amendments are made. The Post says one of the amendments will reduce the maximum amount of jail time a driver could face from three years to one year. Drivers would still face a maximum fine of $5,000.

The amended bill now heads to the House floor for a full vote in the coming days. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has yet to act on similar legislation.

“We think it’s a great start, but I think we still have a lot of work to do,” Jake’s mother, Susan Yum, told the newspaper. “We’re cautiously hopeful that we’ll get this through.”

More than 3,300 people were killed in distracted-driving crashes in 2012, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics. The federal report also said that 666,000 people are using electronic devices while driving during every moment of daylight in the U.S.

Marylanders are no exception. An OpinionWorks poll cited by a non-profit group founded in memory of Jake said that 28 percent of Maryland drivers, or 1.1 million drivers, texted while driving within the past six months.

“Handheld cellphone use while driving is the new drunk driving,” said Yum. “Yet society seems to find this behavior somewhat acceptable.”

The same poll showed that 75 percent of those surveyed supported the law, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent, according to OpinionWorks.

Our earlier story:

'Jake’s Law' Proposes Crackdown on Deadly Cell Phone Use

carl lazar March 13, 2014 at 12:56 PM
I agree with Mr Johnston, the police are not enforcing this law at all. Every day I see more and more drivers with the phone either stuck in their ear or in front of them texting. What blows my mind is the expensive cars that have blue tooth and yet the phone is still being used by hand.
Sir March 13, 2014 at 01:05 PM
How about we learn defensive driving.
Susan March 13, 2014 at 02:17 PM
The other comments are absolutely correct. I think people also need to be urged to consider alternatives. 1. Pull over. Not that hard. 2. Buy a headset or put your phone on speakerphone. BEFORE driving. 3. If possible, wait. I realize sometimes we have urgent reasons for calling - directions, work obligations, emergencies - but it's not worth risking a life over. Seriously. And I'm willing to bet most of the time, it's truly nothing that important.
Eastsider March 13, 2014 at 02:19 PM
The state FAILED again in the attempt to do the right thing. They need to pass a law for distracted driving which would include eating, applying make up, reading, dancing amongst other things. Drive any major roadway in the morning you will see violations of the above countless times.
You March 13, 2014 at 03:12 PM
I see cops themselves all the time texting or talking on their cellphones while driving in a county cop car. It is unfortunately still not taken serious by anyone; including law enforcement officers who do it themselves while on duty. I was passed just last week during the day by a county cop on Belair Rd doing at least 60 mph in a 40mph swerving and as he passed me I saw he was obviously texting. A friend of mine 3 years ago saw a state police car in Westminster driving extremely fast and erratically on rt 140 during the middle of the day. He happened to hit the a red light and pulled up next to the cop. The state cop was texting. The state cop peeled off and started swerving again. My friend's passenger in his car took video of the cop texting at the light and driving off insanely. I saw the video and it was nuts. He never sent it in or nothing because he didn't want to cause problems since he lives right by the barracks. I think texting and talking on cell phones is truly a modern, cultural issue which obviously is extreme in society in people under 30. They just don't seem to care. If I am not mistaken about a year or so ago there was a nationwide study done by one of the major transportation bureaus... it stated that texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking while driving.

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