Cumberland Times-News

April 11, 2013

Mixed bag

New Md. laws bring changes for motorists

Cumberland Times-News

— Now that the annual 90-day legislative session in Annapolis has concluded, Maryland drivers can brace for a number of changes — not the least of which is a hefty increase in the state’s gasoline tax.

The state’s 23.5 cents-per-gallon tax will move to an index tabulation, meaning the tax will be adjusted according to inflation. The first impact is expected to be a four-cent increase this July 1, with subsequent cost increases each year.

It remains our belief that the state should address its mass transportation funding shortages through a fee or tax paid by the urban residents who use the transit system. It was an argument made by a number of rural legislators, but without success.

Another disappointment was the failure of legislation to fix errors and abuses with the state’s speed camera program. Motorists have long complained that the cameras are faulty, particularly those used in school zones.

There were a few positives to come out of the legislature, including a measure to hold a referendum to provide constitutional protection of transportation tax dollars. The so-called lockbox legislation asks voters whether they want to prohibit use of transportation funds for other state expenditures. The vote will take place in the general election of 2014.

People who continue to ignore the current law and talk on hand-held cell phones while driving will soon face stiffer penalties. Lawmakers voted to make the cell phone prohibition a primary offense. Fines for first-time violators increase to $75 from $40 and increase with each subsequent offense. No points will be assessed to a motorist’s license unless the offense contributes to a crash.

Another bill that should enhance transportation safety requires passengers in the rear seat of a vehicle to wear a seat belt. Children under the age of 8 will still be required to be in a child safety seat, unless the child is 4 foot, nine inches or taller.