Articles Posted in Maryland Driving Laws

If you have ever seen a tow-truck driver on the side of the road working on getting a disabled vehicle on the bed of the tow truck, you know what a dangerous proposition it can be. There they are, perched on a few-foot-wide piece of pavement between the disabled vehicle and semi-trucks whizzing by at seventy-plus miles per hour.

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A new law pending in the Maryland legislature will help protect tow-truck drivers while they are working on the side of the road. The bill, sponsored by David D. Rudolph (D-Cecil) and James E. Malone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), would require motorists to move into an open lane away from tow-truck drivers who are tending to disable vehicles. Currently the law requires motorists move into an open lane for emergency vehicles such as police cars and fire trucks, this would be an extension of that law.

A recent article by the Washington Post details the story of a tow-truck driver who was killed when he was hit by driver while tending to a disabled vehicle. He was changing the tire on a vehicle when a car side swiped him, killing him on the spot. The driver failed to stop and render aid, and the man died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.

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As a vehicle driver or passenger car occupant hurt or injured as a result of a truck driver’s negligence, you have the right to present the police-issued traffic citation as evidence in a personal injury or wrongful death suit against a big rig operator or trucking company. Being involved in a crash with an 18-wheeler can have serious medical implications and can cause life-changing results to a victim and his or her family.

As Maryland trucking accident lawyers, we know from first-hand experience how a multi-vehicle accident involving semi tractor-trailers can affect individuals months and even years following a crash. Whether someone is involved in a collision with a delivery truck, tanker trailer rig and over-the-road commercial hauler, the results can be financially crushing and medically devastating to say the least.

Injuries from such accidents can range from typically serious injuries, such as head and neck trauma, to lesser bodily harm like cuts, bruises and contusions. The smaller the victim’s vehicle the more chance there is for serious injury or death.

When it comes to bringing a suit, the injured party can use the truck driver’s traffic citation as part of his or her evidence that the truck driver was considered by the police to be negligent. As any person who has received a speeding ticket in this state knows, our traffic laws govern all Maryland drivers. What is important to understand, however, is that truck drivers are also governed by other federal as well as state regulations. If a commercial truck driver violates any of these laws and causes a car accident, the injured party may use that violation as evidence of the truck driver’s negligence.

Since heavy trucks including Mack, Volvo, Freightliners to name a few are used to maintain the commerce of our state and country, the number of these large trucks found on public roads will always be significant, especially during the work week. Busy metropolitan areas see a significant number of truck traffic, both expressway and surface street truck volume, and especially in areas populated by industrial parks and manufacturing centers.

Drivers of small family vehicles, such as minivans and passenger cars, must continually deal with the presence of these larger vehicles on a daily basis. In fact, a fully-loaded semi can weight as much a 80,000 pounds — close to 20 times the weight of an average car or SUV. In a crash, a fully-loaded semi can literally crush the smaller vehicle with little effort.

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A recent study had some interesting findings about tractor-trailer operators, traffic accidents and cell phone texting habits. Because our firm, Lebowitz-Mzhen, LLC handles a large number of trucking accident injury cases, we were not surprised to learn that the chance for truck drivers to be involved in a highway collision is directly proportional to whether they are texting on their cell phone while operating a big rig.

According to the report, on released from a new study this week report that texting while driving increases the chance that a truck driver will be involved in a traffic accident or near-accident by 23 times. Researches from Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute looked at commercial trucking information from two studies — one in 2003 and the other in 2007. More than two hundred truck drivers who drove over three million miles took part in the study. The institute looked at 4,452 events considered “safety-critical,” including 197 near accidents and 21 truck crashes.

Video cameras were used to record event in the cabs of the trucks during the study. Those cameras shot footage of truck drivers’ facial reactions in the final seconds right before a near miss truck crash or an actual truck accident. The footage showed that the main reason texting while driving is so dangerous for truck drivers is that they have to take their eyes off the road.

Last week, Motor Vehicle Administration (“MVA”) administrator, John T. Kuo, announced that new applicants for a Maryland driver’s license will have to undergo an updated road test. As many of our readers know, the older version of the driving test required applicants to pass a written exam, navigate a closed road course, and then parallel park. Under the new test, applicants will have to pass a written test, navigate the closed course, and then take their car onto open roads. The new testing procedure is currently in effect in the Waldorf and Frederick MVA locations.

Maryland truck accident attorneys are happy to see Maryland update its driving test procedures and bring them more in line with other states that perform driving tests on open roads. The MVA and parents hope that the new testing procedures will reduce the number of Maryland teenagers involved in auto accidents. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2005, car accidents caused one third of all deaths among 16-19 year olds. In 2007, nearly 5,000 teenagers died in car accidents in the United States and teens within the first months of receiving their license were at a higher risk of being injured in an auto accident.

MVA officials and many parents believe that the new test is a more effective way to test a potential driver’s ability. According to MVA officials, the old test placed too great an emphasis on skills like parallel parking, while the new road test will test a driver’s ability to handle more “real world” situations and will emphasize defensive driving techniques. The MVA expects that by this fall, Baltimore and Washington metro locations will begin implementing the new tests.

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We recently reported that the Maryland legislature was considering a ban on texting while driving in the state. Recently, both the Maryland House and the Senate have passed versions of the ban and are currently reconciling the bill before it is sent to the Governor’s desk for signature. Governor O’Malley has promised sign the bill into law and to make Maryland one of the growing number of states with text messaging bans.

The House version of the bill prohibits sending text messages while a driver is in travel lanes, even if the driver’s care is stopped at a red light. The Senate version of the law prohibits both sending and reading text messages while on Maryland roads. Under both versions of the bill, texting while driving will be a misdemeanor violation and violators will be subject to a fine of up to $500. Additionally, lawmakers have made texting while driving a primary offense, which means that police officers may pull over a suspected texter even if there is no evidence of other violations.

Although the Maryland Highway Safety Administration has not kept statistics of accidents involving texting while driving, distracted driving has been a factor in a number of automobile accidents in the state. Maryland accident attorneys believe that the texting ban will reduce the ever increasing level of distraction faced by drivers in this state.

On Monday, I met with a new client who was walking across a Baltimore City street. This individual was crossing the street within the cross walk and on a permissible pedestrian “walk” signal when she was struck by a fast moving car that made a right hand turn. She was knocked to the ground, and she suffered broken ribs and a head injury.

In Maryland, it is important to remember that owners of cars who are pedestrians when they are hit by a tractor-trailer, pick-up truck or car still receive the benefits of their automobile insurance coverage available as if they were struck while operating their motor vehicle. In short, a pedestrian does not need to be in his or her vehicle to utilize their own automobile insurance coverage when hit by another vehicle while walking.

The three types of automobile insurance coverage that are typically most useful to someone hit while a pedestrian, are:

1. personal injury protection – this insurance will cover medical bills and 85% of lost wages incurred due to the pedestrian incident, up to the coverage limit. PIP coverage in Maryland is usually purchased at limits of $2,500.00, $5,000.00, $7,500.00 or $10,000.00.

2. medical payment coverage – this insurance will cover medical bills caused by injuries sustained in the pedestrian accident, up to the coverage limit.

3. uninsured or underinsured motorists coverage – this insurance will step in to pay for injuries sustained in the pedestrian incident, such as for broken bones, head injury, muscle and ligament strains and tears, medical bills, and lost wages when the driver of the involved vehicle leaves the scene of the accident and cannot be found, when the other driver has no insurance or when the at fault driver does not have enough insurance to cover the injuries sustained in the collision.

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In a prior post, we reported how many truck companies attempt to rush people injured in Maryland big rig accidents to accept low settlements. Recently, a potential client came into my office and explained that she had been involved in a Maryland truck accident while traveling on Interstate 95 in Howard County, Maryland. This lady explained that she had sustained what she considered “serious, but not life threatening injuries.”

This individual went on to describe how the insurance company for the truck company had called her a week after the accident, one thing led to another, and she agreed to settle her case for an amount that she now realizes was far too law. She wanted to know if she had any legal rights to go back and undo her mistake. She does.

In Maryland, if a person settles her case within 30 days after a truck accident (evidenced by the signing of a legal release within 30 days of the incident), without being represented by a lawyer and without the advice of an attorney, the victim may void the release within 60 days after the date the release was signed. The voiding of the release must be done in writing, and it must be accompanied by the return of the money paid in settlement.

Due to this weekend’s snow storm in Maryland, our Maryland truck accident attorneys have spoken to many potential clients regarding accidents caused when the driver of a motor vehicle, or in one case, the driver of a tractor trailer, hit a patch of ice, or compacted snow, lost control of the vehicle driven, and caused an accident. After a snow storm, potential clients call us and ask a question like this, “Do I have a case: I was injured when another driver lost control of his vehicle on ice and slammed into the front of my car?”

In Maryland, a driver of a motor vehicle must control his or her vehicle in all weather conditions. The Maryland Transportation Article, Section 21-801 states that:

“At all times, the driver of a vehicle on a highway shall control the speed of the vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with any person or any vehicle or other conveyance.”

In short, the failure to control a vehicle due to snow or ice does not excuse the act of losing control of a tractor trailer, an SUV, or an automobile. A driver is responsible for injuries or damages caused when his or her motor vehicle goes out of control and strikes another driver, even if the accident was caused by ice or snow on the roadway.

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As we have discussed in earlier posts, a myriad of state and federal regulations govern the duty of care owed by truck drivers in Maryland. If a bill currently before the Maryland legislators becomes law, a negligent truck driver in Maryland may be liable both criminally and civilly a death caused by negligent driving. Maryland truck accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC will keep an eye on this bill and its potential future impact to civil truck accident litigation in Maryland.

Maryland legislators are debating a negligent driving law that will greatly increase the penalty for causing the death of another while behind the wheel. Maryland law enforcement personnel are frustrated by what they see as a “gaping hole” in state law that allows a driver who kills another to receive only a traffic citation and a fine.

Currently, under Maryland law, a driver is guilty of felony vehicular manslaughter only when the driver kills another while exhibiting a “wanton or reckless disregard for human life.” This is a high standard to meet at trial and, many times, defendants are found not guilty. If a driver’s negligence falls short of this standard but still kills another, a police officer can only ticket the guilty party and allow him on his way. As a result, if a sober driver runs a red light and kills someone, the driver is likely only to receive a reckless driving ticket and a fine.

The bill currently before the legislature would make it a misdemeanor when a driver kills another through a “substantial deviation from the standard of care…[normally] exercised by a reasonable motorist.” In its current form, the misdemeanor provides for a maximum prison sentence of three years and a fine of up to $5,000. Reasonable care is that level of prudence that an ordinary person would exercise in a given situation. In the example above, it would seem clear that blatantly running a red light would be a substantial deviation from the standard of care, and that driver would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Our truck accident attorneys commend the foresight of Maryland’s legislators in proposing a bill to increase penalties for negligent driving which results in another’s death. The law, however, could impact the timeline of future civil truck accident litigation. If the state prosecutes a truck driver for violation of criminal law, the victim’s family typically would have to wait until the criminal case is finished in order bring their civil suit to trial.

The criminal justice system is notoriously slow moving and time has a deleterious effect on witnesses’ recall of events and an attorney’s ability to find records pertinent a civil case. This delay makes it that even more important that Maryland truck accident attorneys quickly gather information and take witness statements because a potential trial may be more than a year after the event.

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