March 18, 2014

Susan Yum’s son Jake Owen was only five years old when a distracted driver hit their car without ever hitting the brakes, killing Jake. (Credit: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Susan Yum’s son Jake Owen was only five years old when a distracted driver hit their car without ever hitting the brakes, killing Jake. (Credit: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Maryland House of Delegates recently approved a law that allows judges to impose one-year jail sentences on drivers who negligently or seriously injure someone while texting or talking on a cellphone. The legislation, known as “Jake’s Law,” provides tougher penalties for distracted drivers who cause serious accidents while using their cell phone.

The law is named after Jake Owen, a 5-year-old boy who was killed in a car crash near Baltimore that was caused by a 23-year-old driver talking on his cell phone. The driver who caused the crash, who was traveling more than 62 mph and never applied his brakes, was acquitted of reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter charges but found guilty of negligent driving, failure to control speed, and was only forced to pay a $1,000 fine.

Jake’s Law creates a misdemeanor category that would make violators of the law eligible for one-year prison terms and fines of up to $5,000. After approval in the Maryland House, the bill is sent to the Senate, whose approval will turn the bill into law unless the Governor vetoes the legislation.

States have begun to crack down on distracted drivers. Last year, Virginia designated texting while driving a primary offense. Prominent filmmaker Werzer Herzog even created a short documentary about the dangers of texting while driving and released it free on the Internet. As of March 2014, the 35-minute documentary has more than 2.7 million views.

Composing, sending, and reading text messages or browsing the Web on a cell phone while driving is negligent.  At The Cochran Firm, D.C., we represent victims who have been severely injured by distracted drivers.  Text messages can wait.  Proposed legislation like Jake’s Law sends a message that distracted driving will not be tolerated in Maryland.  We support all efforts and legislation like Jake’s Law designed to keep the public safer and less at risk for catastrophic life-changing injury.

The Maryland Association for Justice is launching the End Distracted Driving Program in Maryland. The MAJ program is a counterpart to the nationwide program that was developed by Joel Feldman at Anapol Schwartz after he lost his young daughter to a tragic accident involving a distracted driver. The MAJ is the 18th state trial lawyer association to adopt the program.