A new law now exists in Maryland that will have serious consequences for distracted drivers and victims of distracted driving. The new law, called “Jake’s Law,” went into effect on October 1, 2014, and imposes much tougher penalties for distracted driving.
Jake’s Law is named after Jake Owen, a five-year-old boy from Baltimore who was killed in a car accident in 2011. The driver who caused the car accident, Devin McKeiver, was talking on his phone when his Jeep approached stopped traffic and plowed into the back of Owen’s vehicle at 62 miles per hour. Records showed the McKeiver was also texting minutes before the crash.
McKeiver was found guilty of the crimes of negligent driving and failure to control speed, but only received a $1,000 fine for the driving convictions. Jake’s Law was passed in response.
Texting while driving or using a hand-held cellphone while driving was already illegal in Maryland. However, under Jake’s Law, crashes caused by cellphone distracted driving – including talking on a hand-held phone or texting – will have a more serious penalty if they result in serious injury or death. Now, distracted drivers who cause serious injury or death can receive up to three years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Dangers of Distracted Driving
The dangers of distracted driving are well documented. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 410,000 people are injured each year in motor vehicle crashes caused by a distracted driver. Of these 410,000 injuries, over 3,000 result in death. Drivers in their 20s are particularly likely to cause distracted driving accidents. And despite widespread knowledge of the dangers of distracted driving, statistics have held steady or increased since 2010.
Distracted driving can result from:
- Texting while driving;
- Eating or drinking while driving;
- Talking to passengers;
- Using a GPS navigation system;
- Using a cell phone; or
- Adjusting a CD player or MP3 player.
What Does Jake’s Law Mean for Victims of Distracted Driving?
The primary purpose of Jake’s law is to have a deterrent effect. As the theory goes, if there are harsher penalties for distracted driving, fewer people will be inclined to talk on their cell phone or text while driving. It remains to be seen if this law will be an effective deterrent.
Another potential consequence of Jake’s law could be increased success in court for victims of distracted driving. Distracted driving claims in Maryland are often brought under the theory of negligence per se. In order to successfully bring a negligence per se lawsuit, the injured party (the plaintiff) must prove that the defendant 1) violated a law or regulation, 2) that this violation caused their injuries, and 3) that their injuries were of the type that the law or regulation was intended to prevent. Jake’s Law satisfies this third requirement because it exists to prevent injuries that result from distracted driving. Thus, Jake’s Law can serve as the basis of a negligence per se lawsuit.
Although talking on a hand-held cellphone and texting while driving were already illegal under Maryland law prior to Jake’s Law, the seriousness of this new law could potentially affect jury verdicts in distracted driving cases. As more people become aware of distracted driving and penalties for distracted become more severe, juries may begin to have less sympathy for distracted drivers.
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