Senate changes to ‘Jake’s Law’ undermine purpose of safety bill, advocates say

April 2, 2014

Proponents of “Jake’s Law,” a Maryland bill that would increase penalties for drivers who cause serious or fatal accidents while using a hand-held cell phone, gathered in Annapolis on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to reverse changes in the legislation that were passed by the state Senate.

The legislation was filed in memory of Jake Owen, a five-year-old from Baltimore killed in a 2011 crash caused by a driver who was talking on his cell phone.

The House of Delegates passed a version of the bill that would impose penalties of up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if a driver caused a serious accident while texting, talking or otherwise using a hand-held cell phone. Drivers suspected of such behaviors would have to immediately give police their cell phone number, carrier and any e-mail addresses associated with the device.

The Senate passed its own version of the legislation on March 20, removing the requirement to provide police with cell phone information and a provision that would allow prosecutors to charge drivers with a cell phone violation on top of other charges..

In another key change, the Senate amended the legislation so it would apply only to drivers who are texting — and not to those talking on their phones.

“That’s a critical part of Jake’s Law,” said Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore), a prosecutor who lives near Jake’s parents in Federal Hill and introduced the bill. The driver who killed Jake, Clippinger noted, was talking, not texting.

Clippinger joined Jake’s parents, Susan Yum and James “Spike” Owen, and many of their neighbors at a news conference in Annapolis on Wednesday. Yum and other speakers, including Clippinger, urged lawmakers to compromise on a version of the bill that is closer to the one passed by the House.

The House and Senate have until Monday to resolve the differences between the two bills.

“Jake’s death and the deaths of thousands of people as a result of cell-phone-distracted driving is completely preventable,” Yum said. “And while nothing can bring Jake back, we hope that this law will prevent other families from going through what ours has.”

Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who is covering the 2016 presidential campaign.
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