Bill hikes penalties for motorists who fail to yield

February 18, 1997


Staff Writers

ANNAPOLIS - Many people take for granted the common practice of crossing a street, but it can be risky business for those with disabilities.

"I think it's hard for us who are not blind or deaf or mobility impaired to understand it," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, who is sponsoring legislation to toughen motor vehicle penalties for drivers who fail to yield to disabled people.

Her bill would, in many cases, double the penalty for that offense.

For example, first-time offenses would cost drivers two points on their licenses, instead of the current one. The penalty for a second offense would be four points instead of two.


Sylvia Smith, an Emmitsburg, Md., woman who walks with the assistance of a cane, told the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee Tuesday that the bill is needed to combat drivers who put her and others in danger each time they try to cross a street.

"This is terrifying for me, and I am a sighted individual. Can any of you understand what this is like for someone who is blind?" Smith asked the committee.

Several blind people testified on behalf of the bill, which had no opposition. They told of numerous experiences of being struck or nearly struck by vehicles driven by careless and hurried drivers.

"This is not something that happens every now and then. This is something that happens every day," said Bob Gamble of Lutherville, Md., who was accompanied by his 7-year-old German shepherd Dickens.

Gamble said blind pedestrians often are victimized by drivers who know they can break the law without fear of the consequences.

"They can come as close to you as they want and not worry about it because you are not going to know who they are," he said.

That's why Gamble and others said any new law would have to be well-enforced. A campaign to educate drivers and pedestrians about the new penalties would be needed, they said.

To those who think the legislation is not needed, Gamble offered a challenge.

"Anyone who feels this is not a problem, try blindfolding yourself and crossing the street," he said

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