- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2000

The war against motorists proceeds apace. Last week in Maryland, the state Senate unanimously passed some overheated legislation that would make "aggressive driving" a crime. The problem with that? Nobody can say exactly what is meant by the term. Critics contend rightly that it is so vague as to be both meaningless and dangerous. Speeding, red-light running and other traffic offenses are easily quantifiable. That kind of specificity matters in a court of law when one is charged with an offense but especially one with the potential for jail time upon conviction.

Peddled by Democratic Committee Chairman Walter M. Baker, the proposed law, which still must pass the Maryland House of Delegates, would allow police to cite a motorist for "aggressive driving" if the motorist commits two moving violations, such as passing on the right or following too closely, while also speeding. The problem is that these actions are already traffic offenses under Maryland law. So which takes precedence? The passing on the right charge? The following too closely charge? Speeding? All three? Or some combination along with an additional, gratuitous charge for "aggressive driving"?

The proposed law is also dangerous because it gives police and traffic courts the means to tag actions that are not necessarily dangerous with a charge that implies they are. This accomplishes two pernicious and unfair things. One, it hands on a silver platter a new pretext for insurance companies to jack up premiums the moment an "aggressive driving" charge which sounds near-homicidal appears on the old driving record. Second, it cheapens the currency of truly dangerous driving by lumping together technical violations of bureaucratic ordinances with the kind of maniacal driving that one sees on TV shows such as "World's Wildest Police Chases."

This is of a piece with Virginia's "reckless driving" law. Though it isn't well-known, anyone who exceeds the posted limit by more than 20-mph is automatically and arbitrarily charged with this offense a major violation that carries with it the possibility of jail time and license suspension. Yet the plain fact is that a majority of drivers on the Beltway are technically guilty of this evil-sounding offense almost every day of the week. Is 76-mph on the Beltway "reckless"? Under Virginia law, it is.

Now Maryland is poised to enact a similarly ill-advised law more the product of emotion than reason. Both Maryland and Virginia would better serve traffic safety and equity by sticking to laws that have meaning.

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