Yesterday both houses of the Maryland General Assembly approved the amended House Bill 363, which creates a new crime of negligent homicide by vehicle or vessel. Passage of this bill culminates a 7-year effort led by Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-Rockville) and the families of victims killed by negligent drivers.
Under the existing law, drivers who kill have only been convicted of vehicular manslaughter if they were drunk, drag-racing, or clearly knew that their driving might kill someone. Under the new law. drivers who should know that their driving could kill can be prosecuted for negligent homicide, with a maximum term of three years. The Governor has indicated that he will sign the bill.
We can attribute the success this year primarily to the perseverence of Delegate Simmons and several people who dedicated themselves to ensuring that something good came out of the trajedy that befell them. I won't try to name them all, but Adiva Sotzsky deserves credit for engaging the bicycle community. She and Ed Kohls simply would not give up. Keniss Henry's involvement added an extra degree of urgency to the matter within Prince Georges County after the death of her daughter Natasha Pettigrew, which is still under investigation. We also credit Senator Brian Frosh (D-Bethesda) for sharing his skepticism in a transparent fashion, which enabled proponents to address his concerns before the hearing in his committee. Realistically, there would not have been time to address them after the hearing. Bike Maryland and AAA supported the effort for several years before WABA became involved.
But with all of their great work, this bill still would not have passed this year had the Washington area cyclists not stepped forward. As always, you sent emails. But this time you also called your Senators—more than once in many cases. You asked your friends to call the key Senators—and they did. You handed flyers to people in public places and spoke with them about the importance of contacting their Senators. And they did. And the Senators got the message. They allocated enough in their hectic schedules to learn enough so they could be confident in supporting this bill that arrived so late in the session. That is no small accomplishment because a responsible legislator does not create a new type of homicide lightly.
We have no illusions that making negligent homicide a crime will make our roads safe. Many forms of bad driving remain legal, many forms of illegal driving go unenforced, and many drivers are undeterred by enforcement. The subtext that enforcement is worse than the crime will continue in some places. But Maryland has removed the most offensive blemish of all from its transportation legal system—the idea that killing a human being has no legal consequence. Now it will.
(Jim Titus is a member of WABA's Board of Directors from Prince Georges County, Bike Maryland's legislative task force, and the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MBPAC) The opinions stated herein do not necessarily reflect the offials views of WABA, Bike Maryland, or MBPAC.)