Jake’s Law would toughen Md. cellphone driving laws

Using a handheld cell phone while driving is risky. And there's a move to toughen the penalties for drivers who cause serious crashes while using one.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Using a handheld cellphone while driving is risky. And there’s a move to toughen the penalties for drivers who cause serious crashes while using one.

A bill was presented to lawmakers in Annapolis Wednesday that would raise the penalty for cellphone distracted driving to a misdemeanor punishable up to three years in prison when the crash causes death or serious injury.

The bill is named Jake’s Law for Jake Owen of Baltimore. Owen was 5 years old in 2011 when a driver on a cellphone plowed into the Owen’s family car at 62 mph, killing Owen.

“The driver was on his cellphone and he was so distracted that for approximately 500 yards, which is the length of five football fields, he did not realize that the traffic had stopped in front of him,” says Susan Yum, the boy’s mother.

Yum is leading the effort to change the law. Supporters of the bill held a news conference in front of the State House before the proposed bill went before a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Luke Clippinger of Baltimore City, a Democrat who is member of the judiciary panel, says there is currently “a hole in the law” letting violators off without a criminal penalty.

“Those people who are so irresponsible as to drive in their car texting or on the phone…if they kill somebody or they have an accident that results in serious bodily injury, that’s something that needs a criminal penalty,” Clippinger says.

Yum says she wants to spare other families the pain her’s has suffered.

“Our goal is that people need to understand that there are consequences to their action and that this new statute will serve as a deterrent,” Yum says.

Clippinger says he expects his bill will face challenges in the Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the proposed law point to a survey that indicates 75 percent of respondents in Maryland support it.

The proposed law also calls for a fine of up to $5,000.

While the House panel takes up the measure Wednesday, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold a hearing Friday, Feb. 28 on its version of Jake’s Law.

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