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.
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