Street Safety: Remembering the Rules of the Road

Maryland Pedestrian Safety Laws

New Year’s Eve is here, and a lot of us celebrate the occasion by going out – which means there will be plenty of revelers on the street, both in cars and on foot. Don’t let the excitement of the festive season cloud your judgment when it comes to being safe, though. We’ve outlined some important things to keep in mind when you’re walking or driving at this (and any) time of year.

For Pedestrians

First, let’s cover some of the rules you should follow as a pedestrian (because let’s face it – walkers are more vulnerable than drivers, so it’s in your interest to be extra careful).

Make yourself visible. Wintertime is especially treacherous for pedestrians because it gets dark much earlier, making it harder for drivers to see people on the road. If you’re walking after sunset, wear bright colors or reflective clothing if at all possible; you can also use the flashlight on your phone if you need to.

Don’t take short cuts. Stick to sidewalks and marked crossings at all times, even if it takes you longer to get where you’re going. It’s not worth risking your life to save a few minutes here or there. If there isn’t a sidewalk or a crosswalk where you’re walking, keep to the edge of the road and face traffic.

Turn down (or off) the sound. Listening to your favorite music or podcast while you’re out on a stroll is an enjoyable pastime, but it’s not a wise decision if you’re on a busy road with a lot of cars. You need to be able to hear what’s going on around you and be alert to potential threats from cars in any direction.

Look left and right (and left again). Just because you’re at a crosswalk doesn’t mean a driver is going to stop for you. Look left, right and left again before entering a crosswalk; if there are oncoming cars in either direction, wait until they’ve come to a full stop before you take a step. Making eye contact with the driver is another good idea – that way you know they’ve seen you.

For Drivers

Drivers have a big part to play in making sure the roads are safe. Here are some important rules for motorists:

Come to a full stop at every red light. We’ve all been guilty at one point or another of turning right on a red light without fully stopping beforehand. But Maryland law requires vehicles to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk on red lights (as well as on green lights, of course). If you’re too busy paying attention to oncoming traffic from your left, you might miss the fact that people are crossing the street on your right.

Be patient. Even if you think you’re close enough to “sneak through” a pedestrian crossing before people approach it, stop and wait for them. You never know if those pedestrians might try to pick up the pace themselves and jog across, figuring that you will brake for them.

Expect the unexpected. Pedestrians are supposed to stick to crosswalks and sidewalks, but they don’t always follow the rules – especially if they have been drinking. They may try to cross the street diagonally or run across a part of the road that isn’t specifically marked for crossing. Keep an eye out and don’t assume anything.

Stay alert. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but driving tired (or distracted) can be just as dangerous. If you find yourself unable to stay awake, pull over in a safe place and call a friend (or an Uber or Lyft) to take you where you need to go. And avoid texting or talking on the phone while you’re driving.

If you’ve been involved in a pedestrian accident, a lawyer can help you determine the best course of action. Choose an attorney with experience in these types of cases, who will work to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.

Need legal help? Contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today to schedule your free consultation. We don’t receive a fee unless we win.

Tailgating Laws in Maryland

Tailgating Laws in Maryland - Car with Damage from Accident

Tailgating, whether intentional or not, is an extremely dangerous and all-too-common occurrence on Maryland roads these days. There are more cars on the road than ever and everyone is in an extreme hurry to get to where they’re going. While aggressive driving is certainly a major factor in tailgating incidents, there are also plenty of cases where the driver is unaware that he or she is tailgating.

Let’s take a quick look at tailgating regulations in Maryland, the consequences of following another car too closely, and how to prevent it before it’s too late and you find your car hurtling uncontrollably toward a set of taillights and a major headache.

Is tailgating illegal in Maryland?

Yes. The 2020 Maryland Transportation Code (§ 21-310) states, “The driver of a motor vehicle may not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the other vehicle and of the traffic on and the condition of the highway.” A “reasonable and prudent” distance, however, can be tricky to define. It depends on factors such as road conditions, road type (highway vs. residential street), speed limit and weather conditions. The law doesn’t specify an exact following distance, but you can be sure you’ll be pulled over if an officer sees you following less than a car length behind the car in front of you in anything other than bumper-to-bumper traffic. Two to three car lengths is a pretty decent standard to avoid being stopped. But even that distance might not be enough to avoid an accident. 

Maryland drivers cited for tailgating can be charged a maximum of $500.00 and assessed two points on their license if there is no accident and three points in the event of an accident. As previously stated, considering that “reasonable and prudent” is inexact and open to interpretation, you should always consider fighting a tailgating ticket in court.

Consequences of tailgating

First and foremost is that the inhabitants of your car and those in the car you hit can be injured or killed. In the event of injury, hospitalization or some other form of incapacitation, your ability to work, earn income, and keep your job is threatened. Absent injury, the body damage to both cars will be expensive to fix. You could also face fines, criminal or civil charges and increased insurance premiums.

Even if there’s no accident or traffic stop, you could be caught on another driver’s smartphone camera or car camera and be reported to the police, which could lead to repercussions after the fact.

Who is liable in a rear-end collision?

Almost everyone has heard the urban myth that a driver who rear-ends another car is automatically at fault, however, this isn’t true in all cases. The lead driver could be found liable if he/she:

  • Reverses unexpectedly and backs into you
  • Slows down suddenly and unexpectedly
  • Has broken or non-functioning brake lights
  • Stops suddenly to make a turn without signaling – Maryland law requires all drivers to signal 200 feet before turning
  • Unexpectedly pulls in front of you from a side road
  • Slams on the brakes for no reason

But it’s difficult to make a successful claim against a driver whose car you rear end. Even if the other driver is 100% at fault you will have a tough time proving that you were not partly to blame. For example, if a driver stops suddenly and is rear-ended by you, that driver is completely liable for the accident as long as you were maintaining a reasonable following distance. But you can count on the other driver’s insurance company going to great lengths to show that you were following too closely and at least partially responsible for the wreck. If they can convince a judge or jury of this, both you and the other driver will be found negligent and liable for the accident. Maryland’s adherence to the “contributory negligence standard” means that if both drivers are found to be at fault then neither can recover damages from the other’s insurance company.

How do I know if I’m tailgating?

Tailgating can lead to accidents, injury and death. At the very least, it will upset the driver in front of you and could lead to an escalating road rage situation. The news is full of unfortunate accounts of road rage incidents that started with someone tailgating someone else.

While common sense dictates that it’s always a good idea to keep a safe distance between your car and the car in front of you, how can you measure exactly what a safe distance is? The Maryland Driver’s Manual states that under excellent driving conditions (a straight stretch of road, good weather, etc.) your minimum following distance should be three to four seconds. To give you an idea of how you can calculate that time gap, your car should pass a reference point three to four seconds after the driver in front of you passes it. Pick any stationary object on the roadside, such as a bridge, overpass, billboard, or mile marker. As soon as the car in front of you passes it, begin counting slowly, “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-one thousand.” If you get to four-one thousand before your car passes the same stationary object, you are at least four seconds behind the car in front of you. If you are following a vehicle that makes frequent stops, such as a bus, taxi or delivery van, you should increase the distance between your vehicle and the one ahead of you to five or seconds, and quite possibly more if necessary.

Anybody who has been in a tailgating-related auto accident or charged with tailgating should consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today to schedule your free consultation. We don’t receive a fee unless we win.

Is Driving With Snow on Your Car Illegal?

Car with Snow on Top and On Road

Last week’s snowstorm and subsequent 48-mile backup that stranded thousands of motorists for up to 20 hours on I-95 in Virginia brought to mind the many ways that driving in inclement weather can go very bad very quickly. Another just-as-serious hazard is the sheet of ice or hard-packed snow that can go flying from the rooftop of a fast-moving car and shatter on the windshield of the car behind it.

In addition to temporarily blocking the windshield of the driver behind you, flying debris may also damage the car body or windshield. A Pennsylvania woman was killed on Christmas Day 2005 when a 10-inch chunk of ice flew off a trash truck and smashed through her windshield. Such occurrences are entirely preventable if drivers would take the time to properly remove snow from their cars. But is it illegal not to?

Automobile snow removal regulations in Maryland

The Maryland Driver’s Manual contain several recommendations that can help drivers avoid dangers posed by flying snow:

  1. Remove all ice and snow from your vehicle before driving
  2. Slow down – cars traveling at a high rate of speed are more likely to have ice/snow dislodge from their rooftop
  3. Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you, giving you more time to react in the event ice/snow flies towards your car

Maryland law states that a person may not operate a vehicle if snow or ice obstructs the driver’s view of the front, sides, or back of the vehicle. All windows must be clear and fines can be imposed if falling ice/snow hits another car.

Is snow on top of your car legally required to be cleared?

In Maryland, no. While you will be pulled over and fined if you have excess snow on your hood or windows that obstructs your view, your rooftop does not need to be free of snow. Five years ago, the Maryland State Legislature introduced a law imposing fines for cars operating with snow on their rooftops, but it was never passed because lawmakers claimed it would be too difficult for drivers of vans, SUVs and minivans to clear the roofs of large vehicles. However, other states including Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have laws making it illegal to drive your car with snow on the roof.

Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you’re not liable

Whether it’s required by Maryland law or not, removing all snow from your car, rooftop included, makes the road safer for you and everyone driving around you. As a driver, it is your responsibility to operate your car with common sense and in accordance with the conditions. This means taking extra care in cases of snow and ice. A driver who does not and causes an accident, injury, or death, can be found negligent and liable. While you may not have set out to cause an accident, the careless or thoughtless act of leaving snow on your car when a reasonable person would have cleared it could lead to a liability lawsuit.

Uncleared snow/ice on your car can lead to an accident, injury, or death in a fraction of a second. It’s worth taking five or ten additional minutes to properly clear your car to make sure this never happens. 

Anybody who has been in an inclement weather-related auto accident should consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today to schedule your free consultation. We don’t receive a fee unless we win.

Self-Driving Cars in Maryland

Self Driving Tech on Tesla Model 3 Registered in Maryland

When it comes to the safety of self-driving cars, also known as “autonomous vehicles” or AVs, the pro and con camps remain somewhat divided. In a recent Motional Consumer Mobility Report, 50% of survey respondents said they expected AVs to be readily available in their communities within five years, and right around 50% felt that these vehicles will lessen the dangers posed by drivers who are distracted, fatigued, intoxicated or aggressive. Conversely, automobile safety experts stress that AVs incorrectly lead drivers to think their car is more capable than they think. This in turn leads to increased instances of distracted driving when operators assume their car can handle any dangerous situation that arises.

While the self-driving car market is growing at a rate of 16 percent a year and is expected to be worth a trillion dollars by 2025, studies show that 57 percent of people familiar with self-driving cars are not eager to ride in one.

So before you leave the driving to someone, or something, else, consider these thoughts…

Just how autonomous are autonomous vehicles?

Not there yet. By definition, an autonomous act is something that is undertaken or carried on with no outside control. The auto industry classifies current AVs as Level 2 vehicles, whereas cars that can operate completely autonomously at all times would be Level 5. It’s going to be a while before that is achieved. As of 2022, G.M., Ford Motor Company, and other automakers recommend that their self-driving GPS and software systems only be used on divided highways where there are no stop signs, traffic lights, or pedestrians. Similarly, Tesla owners’ manuals warn customers not to use their Autopilot feature on city streets.

Yes, current AVs employ extremely high-tech cameras, radar, and software, but they still occasionally fail to recognize other vehicles, stationary objects, and other road hazards. Look at it this way: when an advanced satellite navigation software program like Waze or Google Maps has a glitch, you get temporarily lost. If your AV has a hiccup and you’re not paying attention, the result could be injury or death. 

What are the cost benefits & drawbacks of AVs?

AVs cost more than traditional cars and always will. The hardware and software necessary for autonomous driving add to the cost of the vehicle, and while those costs will come down, non-self-driving cars will always be less expensive. While statistics show that autonomous vehicles can reduce fuel use by up to 10%, insurance rates for self-driving cars are higher. Some theories hold that your self-driving car won’t be tempted to speed, run red lights or commit other moving violations, which would cut down on expensive tickets.

Who is liable when an autonomous vehicle is in an accident?

Hard to say right now. Given that autonomous vehicles and their technology are still in their infancy and largely unregulated, there’s not much case law to consult. Maryland, for example, has taken a “business first” approach towards regulation, favoring automakers and dealers by not imposing additional safety rules on AVs. At the federal level, Congress has yet to pass any legislation addressing self-driving cars as of late 2021.

When it comes to AV accidents, liability could rest with the vehicle’s owner, the driver, or the manufacturer. Lawmakers, regulators, and courts may eventually determine that if a self-driving car is in an accident that occurred because of the car and not the driver, the manufacturer may be open to a liability claim.

As it stands, exactly who is liable in the event of an AV accident is undecided and likely to remain so until lawmakers issue formal guidelines or courts hear a case that establishes a precedent.

Anybody who has been in an AV accident should consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today to schedule your free consultation. We don’t receive a fee unless we win.