Maryland Injury Attorney Blog

Articles Posted in Automobile Accidents

Last month, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation enabling the state to raise the speed limit on specified highways from 65 to 70 miles per hour. That comes as good news to those eager to put the pedal to the metal … and not so good news to safety advocates concerned about speed-related motor vehicle crashes in Maryland.

According to a spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration, the speed limit increase would not be mandatory and would be determined on a case-by-case basis. Roadways located in more rural areas that already have a 60- to 65-mph speed limit would be more likely to see their speed limit raised to 70 mph.

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Until recently, conventional wisdom suggested that as drivers age, their driving skills decline. Research has supported that notion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has described car accident statistics like a letter “U,” with teenage drivers causing the most accidents at one end of the age scale and senior drivers over age 70 at the other.

However, as overall U.S. car accident injury and fatality rates have declined since 2008 (thanks to public safety campaigns, vehicle safety enhancements, improved traffic engineering and stricter law enforcement) — so have some accident injury and fatality statistics for older drivers. The AAA Foundation for Safety found the following motor vehicle accident trends for drivers of all ages between 1995 and 2010:

“While drivers of all ages experienced decreases in rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths over the study period, decreases in population-based and driver-based rates were largest for teenage drivers; decreases in mileage-based rates of crash involvement, injury, and death were largest for drivers aged 75-84.”

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General Motors has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this year, with millions of vehicles recalled for alleged safety hazards – and the company under fire from Congress and consumers over related motor vehicle accident deaths. The defect that’s received the most coverage involves an ignition switch that can allegedly turn off while the vehicle is in motion. Thirteen deaths have been linked to that reported defect, some going back many years.

Auto safety recalls cover a range of known safety hazards and potential problems in cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles and other motor vehicles, as well as tire defects. Sometimes the vehicle manufacturer initiates the recall on its own, while other times the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) orders the recall based on consumer complaints and its own investigations.

If you’ve owned more than one vehicle in Maryland, chances are at some point you’ve received an auto safety recall notice in the mail. Did you call your dealership right away to get the defective part repaired? That’s the safe and responsible thing to do. However auto industry watchers estimate a full one-third of consumers ignore safety recall notices — at risk to themselves, their passengers, the driving public and pedestrians.

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Back in the day when families typically owned one car (usually a sedan or station wagon the size of Delaware), “distracted driving” meant fiddling with the radio, eating a messy sandwich or yelling at kids in the back seat to settle down. Those rolling activities still fall under the government’s definition of distracted driving, along with smoking, putting on makeup and other things that take the driver’s eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.

The advent of the cell phone, however, took distracted driving to a new level. These devices that keep us connected and put information at our fingertips have become indispensable. It’s disturbing to think our new generation of drivers never knew a time when they didn’t have a phone in their car. Once people could text on their cell phones, the problem of distracted driving on our roadways got worse. Some public safety experts believe texting while driving is as much of a hazard as drunk driving. Teens texting while driving is particularly troublesome.

Over the years, states like Maryland have taken measures to pass laws, educate the public, focus on teens and parents, and partner with schools, agencies and other organizations to prevent distracted driving accidents. Maryland is among the 47 states and the District of Columbia to pass specific distracted driving laws. In 2012, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) surveyed its members to see where states had made gains, and where more needs to be done.

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General Motors has recalled an estimated 7 million motor vehicles this year for safety issues in a number of cars and SUVs, model years 2003 to 2015. Problems include faulty ignition switches, power steering and side airbags in certain Chevy, Pontiac and Saturn vehicles. Maryland drivers, is one of these recalled cars in your driveway? See link to GM owners’ portal below to search for your vehicle and see if it’s been recalled. Failure to have a recalled vehicle repaired by the dealer could lead to a serious or even fatal motor vehicle accident.

One of the most serious safety issues to land GM in the headlines of late involves a faulty ignition switch, which could shut off the car unexpectedly, disabling the power steering and power brakes. Vehicles involved in the ignition switch recall include the Chevy Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion and others.

The faulty GM ignition switch has been blamed for a number of motor vehicle accidents and 13 deaths. Now that the problem has come to light, GM officials are under intense scrutiny, with government leaders and the public demanding to know who knew what and when. For a full list of GM vehicle makes and model years involved in the ignition switch recall, see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) / webpage link, below.

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analyzed US auto accident fatality rates for 2012.* In Maryland, 456 fatal motor vehicle crashes were recorded with 505 related deaths. That’s an increase over the 485 auto crash fatalities reported in 2011 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Maryland’s 505 crash related deaths in 2012 amounts to 8.6 deaths per 100,000 population and 0.90 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. That is less than the overall US rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 population. By comparison, North Dakota had the highest death rate at 24.3 deaths per 100,000, while our neighbors in District of Columbia had the lowest rate at 2.4 deaths.

The IIHS report reveals other facts about fatal Maryland traffic crashes in 2012:

— 45% were passenger car occupants — 18% were pickup truck and SUV occupants — 1% were large truck occupants — 14% were motorcyclists — 19% were pedestrians — 1% were bicyclists
In addition, 44 percent of fatal Maryland crashes were single-vehicle crashes, while 56 percent were multi-vehicle crashes. Those of us who live and work in Maryland know the dangers of our winding back roads. However, 60 percent of fatal Maryland crashes occurred in urban areas, while 39 percent occurred in rural areas.

Not surprisingly, drunk driving continues to be a deadly threat on our nation’s highways, including in Maryland. Of the 233 drivers killed in Maryland crashes in 2012 — 72 percent were found to have blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels greater than the legal limit of .08.

Maryland auto accident injury lawyers like us know the stories behind the crash fatality data. Each death recorded is a life tragically cut short — a man, woman or child who didn’t make it home that day. We see the heartbreak left in the wake of a fatal accident, as families cope with the sudden loss of a loved one. The emotional and financial toll can be overwhelming, which is why we’re here to help families who’ve lost someone in a Maryland motor vehicle accident.

Maryland has taken measures in recent years to cut down on motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities. This includes adding further restrictions to laws regulating cell phone and seat belt use, installing more speed cameras at dangerous intersections and in school zones, and mounting public awareness campaigns. Still, any death on Maryland’s roadways is one death too many. Recent statistics show we still have much work to do to achieve zero traffic accident deaths.

* Data gathered by the US Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Related Maryland Injury Attorney Articles:

New Maryland Traffic Safety Laws Target Cell Phone and Seat Belt Use (Jan. 2014)

Deterring Baltimore County Traffic Accidents: Speed Camera Laws Go Into Effect (Oct. 2009)


Fatal Crash Totals in 2012
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute
Collected online Feb. 2014
Traffic Safety Facts 2011 (PDF)
US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Last fall, Maryland lawmakers added teeth to two key state traffic laws — those governing the use of cell phones and seat belts. Baltimore County car accident lawyers are familiar with Maryland traffic safety laws, which are often broken during the course of a motor vehicle crash. Let’s take a look at changes to our Maryland state cell phone and seat belt laws.

Most likely you’ve witnessed a scene like this: Another driver speeds past you on the Baltimore Beltway with a cell phone in one hand — talking a mile a minute — seemingly oblivious to the traffic around them. If you’ve witnessed this scene recently on any Maryland roadway, it’s now a primary traffic offense.

As of October 1, 2013, Maryland’s Cell Phone Use Ban (TR 21–1124.2) now treats hand-held cell phone use while driving as a primary offense. (It used to be a secondary offense, meaning police would need to stop the driver for another traffic violation to cite the hand-held cellphone use). Now, Maryland police officers may pull a driver over if they observe them talking on a hand-held cell phone, with no other traffic violation taking place. The ticket for a first offense is $83, with fines increasing for subsequent violations.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration estimates that more than 30,000 people in Maryland are injured every year due to distracted driving crashes. Texting while driving in Maryland has been illegal for some years now, so banning the use of hand-held cell phones is a natural progression in public safety law.

Maryland is one of 12 states plus Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands to make its hand-held cell phone law a primary offense. Drivers are allowed to talk using hands-free cell phone devices, such as headset and Bluetooth systems. No states ban all uses of cellphones while driving.

Buckling up the seat belts comes as second nature for smart drivers and their passengers in Maryland. Most newer cars have a warning beep that goes off if you don’t buckle your seat belt. Unfortunately, there are still too many people — including young, novice drivers and their passengers — who fail to use their seat belts.

As of October 2013, failure to wear a seat belt in Maryland is now a primary offense for drivers and front seat passengers, and a secondary offense for back seat passengers. The newly restrictive Maryland Seat Belt Law (TR 22–412.3) comes with an $83 fine per person caught not wearing their seat belt. Drivers may receive additional fines if they are caught with passengers in the vehicle under age 16 who are not buckled up.

Maryland is one of 33 states and the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with a primary offense seat belt law for drivers on their books.

Maryland car accident lawyers like us know that traffic safety laws, when combined with law enforcement and education, help save lives. There will still be drivers who disregard the laws, putting themselves, their passengers and other motorists at risk if an accident occurs. Tougher laws may, however, serve as a deterrent to some Maryland drivers, who would rather put down their cell phones and buckle their seat belts than face a hefty fine.

Related Maryland Car Accident Attorney articles:

More Drivers Admit to Web Surfing While Behind the Wheel (Nov. 2013)

Maryland Seeks to Add More Teeth to Distracted Driver Laws (May 2012)


Maryland’s New Cell Phone and Seat Belt Laws (PDF)
Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration Oct. 2013
Maryland Highway Safety Laws
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Jan. 2014
Distracted Driving Laws
Seat Belt Laws
Governors Highway Safety Administration Jan. 2014

As if texting while driving (illegal in Maryland) weren’t dangerous enough, more drivers admit to using the Internet while behind the wheel. We see the tragic results of distracted driving when car accident victims come to our Baltimore personal injury law firm for help. We have never heard one good reason for anyone being on a cell phone while driving that was important enough to warrant taking one’s hands off the wheel and eyes off the road.

State Farm reports that “webbing while driving” is on the rise, with 24 percent of US drivers surveyed admitting to the practice. This refers to drivers using their smart phones to surf the Internet — when their eyes should be on the road. The top reasons drivers go online while driving are to (1) find directions, (2) read email, (3) obtain information “of immediate interest,” (4) engage on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and (5) compose / send email.

Distracted driving has become an increasing threat on our Maryland roadways and around the country, leading to serious and deadly motor vehicle crashes. Public safety advocates now believe distracted driving can be as deadly as drunk driving. The CDC estimates more than 16 people are killed and 1,300 people are injured in crashes involving distracted driving every day.

Unfortunately, the tech devices designed to make our lives easier have in fact added new hazards to driving. Once cell phones became affordable to practically everyone, our culture changed. Now people expect to be in touch with each other immediately and constantly — including while driving — even for trivial reasons. Texting made the problem on our roads and highways worse, as drivers have their heads down as they compose and send text messages. Maryland is one of 41 states that have made texting illegal as a primary offense.

The relative affordability and ubiquitousness of so-called “smart phones” has added another element of risk to the driving public. Now movie times and restaurant reviews are just a few taps of the screen away. The problem is it only takes an instant of distraction for a driver to cause a serious or fatal car or truck accident. The State Farm survey found that that webbing while driving has steadily increased over the past 5 years.

USA Today reports that since 2009, the incidence of going on the Internet while driving has doubled among drivers ages 18 to 29 — increasing from 29 to 49 percent of drivers surveyed. That’s nearly HALF of all young drivers surveyed. But the problem can’t be blamed on younger drivers exclusively. State Farm also found that half of all drivers ages 30 to 39 surveyed admitted to using the Internet while they were driving.

The Atlantic Wire reports that an estimated one in four drivers are doing something behind the wheel with an electronic device — something that is taking their eyes and minds off the road. If that doesn’t give you pause to slow down and drive defensively in Maryland, nothing will.

Related Baltimore Car Accident Injury lawyer article:

Maryland Seeks to Add More Teeth to Distracted Driver Laws (May 2012)


Webbing While Driving
State Farm Insurance 2011
Americans Can’t Stay Off the Internet, Even While Driving
The Atlantic Wire Nov. 12, 2013
Distracted Driving Laws
Governors Highway Safety Administration Nov. 2013

It’s one of the toughest topics to broach with an aging parent or relative: When is it time to hand over the keys and give up the car? Some of the saddest cases we deal with here as experienced Baltimore County accident injury lawyers involve senior citizens who should not have been behind the wheel. In the blink of an eye, they make a mistake that causes a serious or fatal motor vehicle crash. Those cases are tragic for everyone involved, including the elderly person driving.

As the Baby Boomer population ages, traffic safety advocates here in Maryland and at the national level are taking a harder look at preventing accidents among drivers aged 65 and older.

A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report notes that traffic crash statistics, broken down by driver age, resemble a U. Teenage drivers comprise the group that causes the most car accidents, then crash statistics level out across adulthood. However, accident statistics begin to rise dramatically again for drivers ages 70 and up. NHTSA reports that…

“In 2011, 5,401 people age 65 and older were killed and 185,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. These older individuals made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 8 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year…”

The new NHTSA study looked at reasons why driving abilities can decline over age 65, along with licensing procedures for seniors in all 50 states. Some of the factors that can lead to older drivers getting in serious auto crashes include…

  • Decreased cognitive and motor functioning abilities (including hand and arm movements, and ability to safely apply gas and brakes)
  • Decreased reaction times
  • Medical conditions
  • Changes in eyesight
  • Medications that can cause drowsiness or confusion

The NHTSA report examined how state licensing procedures might better screen for changes in senior citizens’ abilities to operate a motor vehicle safely. Only a few states require in-person license renewal and testing for older drivers. The study looked closely at states with licensing program features not widely in place elsewhere, such as anonymous reporting of potentially dangerous drivers (including physician immunity), Rules of the Road classes for seniors, free ID cards for seniors surrendering their licenses, and medical review units at licensing sites.

The Maryland Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Administration, notes that…

  • Maryland has close to 708,000 residents age 65 and over (12% of the population), and over 98,000 age 85 and over (2% of the population). Most reside in Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties and Baltimore City.
  • As of early 2012, Maryland has 604,487 licensed drivers ages 65 and over.

These numbers are expected to increase further as our own Baby Boomers become older drivers. However, the Maryland MVA states: “Age alone does not make unsafe drivers, and licensing is NOT determined by a diagnosis. If someone questions whether you are medically qualified to drive, MVA focuses on functional ability…not age or disease…and provides an individual review on fitness to drive.” (See links to Maryland MVA below for more information.)

The NHTSA study found that many seniors understand the reasons for programs governing driver’s license renewal, as no one wants to be involved in, much less cause, a serious motor vehicle accident. Still, driving is tied directly to a person’s independence, and families often struggle with knowing when to ask a loved one to give up their vehicle.

More programs in Maryland and across the U.S. will need to address this thorny subject as a public safety concern, for the sake of our seniors and all other motorists who share the road with them.

Related Maryland Car Accident Attorney Article:

Baltimore County Driving Safety: No. of Older Drivers in Maryland to Ramp Up by 2025 (June 2010)


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Licensing Procedures for Older Drivers (Report No. DOT HS 811 833) Sept. 2013 (PDF)

Traffic Safety Facts 2011 Data: Older Population April 2013 (PDF)

Maryland Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Administration:

Older Driver Traffic Safety Facts

Additional Resources for Older Drivers

Older Driver Safety / Safe Mobility for Life

“I didn’t see her brake lights.” “I didn’t think I was going that fast.” “I thought I could make it through the intersection in time.” Baltimore County car accident injury lawyers like us have heard all the possible reasons (and then some) for why Maryland drivers get in traffic accidents — and why they think they aren’t at fault in any way.

As we blogged about in July, Maryland is not a victim-friendly state if you’re in a serious motor vehicle accident with injury, and you’re even a fraction to blame. The Maryland Contributory Negligence Law, which was recently upheld in the high court, can make it difficult in many traffic accident injury cases for victims to collect compensation or damages — unless they have an experienced accident injury attorney to advocate for them. (See link to related blog article below.)

Now the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has given police one more good reason to pull over Maryland drivers. On Sept. 10, the Court ruled that driving with a broken third brake light is inherently unsafe — and sufficient grounds for law enforcement to pull the vehicle over.

The case stemmed from an incident in Baltimore City in 2011, where a man whom police had been watching as he walked on a city street got into the passenger seat of a car and rode away. Police could not stop him as a pedestrian, as he was not engaged in any criminal behavior.

However when they followed the vehicle and noticed the third brake light out, they pulled the vehicle over. A search of the car revealed the smell of marijuana and a firearm; the man in the passenger seat was later convicted of firearms possession. The man appealed on the grounds that the traffic stop for the broken rear deck brake light was illegal.

The Maryland high court disagreed.

Maryland traffic safety code requires that all vehicles made after June 1967 be equipped with at least two stop lamps. However, state code requires motor vehicle inspectors to fail any vehicles made after 1985 if they do not have a working third center-mounted brake light.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study from 1986 to 1995 determined the third brake light on vehicles — known as Center High Mounted Stop Lamps in automotive circles — gives motorists a better indication of braking traffic and prevents rear-end collision accidents.

A judge in the case wrote, “…even with two functioning rear brake lights, the specific safety advantages of the center high-mounted brake light demand that it function properly.”

So keep all your vehicle’s lights in working order, including the ones you can’t easily see. Remember, Maryland police see more than you think.

Related Maryland Injury Attorney article:

Maryland Personal Injury Law : Court Upholds Contributory Negligence Law in Soccer Player Accident Case (July 2013)


Maryland: Court Upholds Traffic Stop Over Third Brake Light
Second highest court in Maryland holds driving without a third brake light is inherently unsafe.
The Sept. 24, 2013
Third Brake Light Is No Third Wheel
American Psychological Association May 28, 2003