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Boy's Death Prompts Bill Creating Stiffer Distracted Driving Penalties

The bill would increase the penalties for people using a cell phone who are at fault for an accident that causes the death or serious injury to another person to up to three years in prison, 12 points on a driving record, and a $5,000 fine.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Five-year-old Jake Owen won't have another birthday or graduate from high school. The little boy died in 2011 in Baltimore County.

"His family was the victim of an accident where the person was on the phone, didn't see the signs that in fact said there was an accident ahead and that traffic was stopped. There car was hit at 61 miles per hour. The person didn't even get a chance to slow down," said Del. Luke Clippinger, (D-Baltimore City).

Clippinger says before slamming into the family's car, the 24-year-old driver went the length of five football fields after passing the sign showing an accident was ahead.

"That person who drove that car that day, he got a $1,000 fine, and that's it because the activity that he was engaged in didn't rise to the level of vehicular manslaughter according to the court," Clippinger said.

Clippinger is sponsoring a bill, called "Jake's Law," which would increase the penalties for people using a cell phone who are at fault for an accident that causes the death or serious injury to another person to up to three years in prison, 12 points on a driving record, and a $5,000 fine.

Frederick City Police say people using a cell phone while driving has become a major problem.

"We are issuing a lot more citations now. The tolerance level for it is becoming reduced as people have had the opportunity to adapt to the new cell phone laws," said Lt. Jason Keckler, patrol commander for the Frederick City Police Department.

Using a cell phone while driving is something police in Frederick have been cracking down on. They believe the bill could create awareness about distracted driving and possibly save lives.

"By passing laws where in enhances penalties, it's really good to show people that distracted driving does cause accidents, and we're trying to reduce fatalities here in the State of Maryland," Keckler said.

Clippinger says he's confident the bill will pass before session ends on April 7th

"What we're saying is we should have a law that says, look, if you're driving, we need your hands to be on the wheel," Clippinger said. "We need you to be focused on driving, as opposed to focused on what your Facebook status is."

The House bill has passed in the Maryland Senate and will soon head to the Senate floor. The Senate bill has passed in the Maryland House of Delegates, and debate on that bill has begun. You can read them by clicking here. You can visit "Jake's Law" website by clicking here.
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