Reckless drivers beware.
Standing before a backdrop of uniformed rescuers and a state police medevac helicopter, Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and two Potomac legislators introduced a measure Feb. 6 that will impose annual fees on bad drivers and channel the money to emergency first responders and transportation projects.
Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15) and Del. Bill Bronrott (D-16) chose the Bethesda-Chevy Chase rescue station to introduce the Driver Responsibility and First Responders Act, which they say will deter reckless driving and generate $40 million per year or more through Motor Vehicle Administration-issued fines on drivers with 3 or more points on their licenses.
“HIGHWAY CRASHES cost our state 4 billion bucks a year. It comes out of our pocket books and our economy and our health care system,” Bronrott said. “It’s like an insidious crash tax on the people of our state and it’s also preventable. We say its time to shift the burden rightly to those who are wreaking the most havoc on our highways.”
If the bill becomes law, drivers with three points on their license will be forced to pay a fine of $150 per year for three years. The fine increases $50 per additional point, so a driver convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol — which carries 12 points — would have to pay $1,800 over three years. The law also increases the fines assessed on uninsured drivers.
The fees are separate from and in addition to the fee associated with the original traffic citations. They would affect “only the riskiest drivers in the state” because less than 3 percent of Maryland drivers have three or more points, according to a fact sheet provided by the bill sponsors.
The first $8 million in revenue from the fees each year would be set aside to replace one state police medevac helicopter until the fleet of 12 is renewed.
Thereafter, 30 percent of revenues would go to a special fund for police, fire and rescue operations and 70 percent to the state’s transportation trust fund, which supports major highway and rail projects.
The Washington and Baltimore areas would receive 80 percent of the transportation money, about $17 million. Bronrott and Garagiola pointed to a proposal for light rail between Shady Grove and Clarksburg and the proposed Metro “Purple Line” between Bethesda and Silver Spring as potential beneficiaries.
“We all are sitting in about the second worst traffic congestion in the country and a big chunk of these funds are going to be used for sorely needed transit projects,” Bronrott said.
About $10 million per year would be dispersed to local fire and rescue services. Ned Sherburne, chief of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, said his company would use the additional money toward rescue vehicle purchases.
“WHAT IT amounts to is a user fee for those who decide to be dangerous and reckless and put our lives, our children, our limbs at risk,” Ehrlich said. “[This] legislation is very worthy. It deserves to be passed.”
Ehrlich, who faces reelection in November, touted the state’s growth as a reason to support the proposed law. “People want to live here,” he said, “but the bottom line to the growth is there’s only so much room. … The roads will become more congested and as a result, potentially more dangerous.”
Ehrlich also announced legislation targeting drivers under 21 convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Under the law, their licenses would be revoked until they turn 21.
Bronrott worked closely with the governor last year to pass a package of safety reforms aimed at teenage drivers. He said repeatedly Monday that “dying on our highways is not a partisan experience.”
Garagiola, who ushered the Driver Responsibility Act through the senate last year before it fizzled out in the house, struck a similar chord. “This is not … a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a common sense public safety issue,” he said.
Even as the politicians talked, ambulances pulled in and out of the station, which responds to more than 10,000 calls each year.