ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Supporters of a law that would strengthen the punishments for distracted driving accidents are urging Maryland lawmakers to pass the bill before time runs out in the General Assembly.
Derek Valcourt has more on the bill and what’s holding it up.
You can get fined for texting or talking on a handheld phone while driving. But supporters of Jake’s Law say, if someone dies from an accident caused by distracted driving, fines aren’t enough.
A crash in 2011 killed 5-year-old Jake Owen. The driver that struck Jake’s family car from behind was talking on his cell phone and paid only a $1,000 fine.
That’s why his mother is now championing Jake’s Law, which she says will send a strong message.
“That, if you cause a crash breaking a law that’s already in place that bans cell phone use and you cause a serious injury or death, that you’re not just going to just get a couple of tickets, that it might be some jail time and there will be serious consequences,” Jake’s mother, Susan Yum, said.
But so far, the House and Senate have passed two different versions of Jake’s Law.
The House version of the bill would apply to accidents involving someone texting or talking on a handheld cell phone. The Senate bill would apply to texting accidents only, meaning it wouldn’t have even applied to the cell phone distracted driver who killed Jake.
The House version would require someone involved in an accident to disclose information about their cell phone to police investigating. The Senate bill would not.
The Senate bill’s punishments are stiffer–up to three years in prison compared to one year in the House version.
The problem is, with just three full days left in the legislative session, time is running out to iron out the differences in the two bills.
“Between Monday, when we adjourn– sine die — and next January, people will die if we don’t enact this legislation,” said Sen. Roger Manno, (D) Montgomery County.
Manno joins advocates urging the Senate to pass the House version of the bill, as Jake’s mother continues her crusade against the kind of distracted driving that killed her little boy.
“When you’re driving, you have a 3,000 to 4,000 pound weapon, so you should not be reaching for your cell phone at all. You should be just driving,” Yum said.
Jake’s Law would make distracted driving accidents that lead to an injury or death a misdemeanor. So far, two other states–Illinois and Utah–have passed similar measures.
Supporters of Jake’s Law say, if it is passed, they expect the governor will sign it.
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