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Md. bill would ticket drivers who block 4-way intersections

The District may make it illegal to turn right on a red light at a number of additional intersections. (Thinkstock)

Cara Newcomer, Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Drivers who enter an intersection but fail to cross it by the time the light turns red would be subject to a ticket and fine under a “don’t block the box” bill that’s advancing through the General Assembly.

The goal of the bill is to address the problem of traffic congestion, to make the state’s roadways and intersections safer and to increase the road capacity during busy hours, said Del. Al Carr, D-Montgomery County.

Both Carr and Capt. Thomas Didone, director of the traffic division of the Montgomery County police, pointed out a handful of intersections in Montgomery County where blocking the box affects the flow of traffic, including Georgia Avenue and Seminary Road; Connecticut Avenue and Knowles Avenue; Connecticut Avenue near Bradley Lane; and Md. 355 and Md. 124.

The bill makes an exception for certain cases: A vehicle making a left turn can enter an intersection while yielding the right of way to any other vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, and a vehicle making a right turn can enter the intersection while yielding the right of way to a pedestrian or bicyclist.

Carr said it helps that similar laws have already been enacted elsewhere: the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Maryland’s current law states if a vehicle enters the intersection when the light is green or yellow, it has the right of way, Didone said.

Tori Hall, of Bethesda, told a House committee she believes this bill is just housekeeping, and that most people already think of it as law. “This bill would clarify what most people already think of as common courtesy and safe driving,” Hall said.

“It makes sense to prevent gridlock and allow pedestrians and emergency vehicles to get through,” Hall said.

Didone said he understands that the duration of lights varies at different locations, but he believes with practice people will be able to decipher when it is appropriate to pull into an intersection.

“Drivers desperate to avoid being caught in the next light cycle sometimes enter the intersection whether or not there’s room,” Carr said. “Driver frustration can escalate, creating road rage incidents and aggressive maneuvers.”

Didone said he wants to discourage the behavior of cars rushing into an intersection on a yellow light to avoid waiting another light cycle. “(It will be) a monument change of the right of way for light intersections,” Didone said.

Del. William Wivell, R-Washington County, cast the lone vote against the bill in the House Environment and Transportation Committee Feb. 9. “The bill was introduced to allow a better flow of traffic, but if you look at it the other way, if someone doesn’t pull forward it could block traffic that way,” Wivell told Capital News Service.

Wivell said he believes the bill will be difficult to enforce and won’t increase the flow of traffic. “I don’t see the need for it and I just think it will create more problems,” Wivell said.

Washington Area Bicyclist Association Executive Director Greg Billing wrote testimony in favor of the bill, saying it would help prevent traffic accidents. “Keeping intersections clear of vehicles is important for all road users, especially at-risk people riding bicycles or walking.”

The Maryland Department of Transportation has not taken a stance on the bill, said Erin Henson, public affairs director for the agency.

“A violation of this provision is a misdemeanor, subject to the existing penalty of a $500 maximum fine,” a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis said.

The bill passed second reading Tuesday in the state House of Delegates and is expected to be voted on for final passage in the chamber Wednesday. A Senate version is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday.

Capital News Service is a student-staffed news wire and broadcast news service operated by the University of Maryland’s Merrill College of Journalism. © 2017 Capital News Service. All Rights Reserved.