*Classic cars-'19.JPG

Two classic cars drive along a road in Ocean City during a Cruisin’ event in 2019. Elements of laws the town has put in place during these types of car events through special event zones may soon apply statewide though a bill making its way through the legislature this year.

Success of resort's laws praised

Legislation brought about by Ocean City’s push to curtail reckless driving during the tuner car rallies that used to pop up every fall is headed for implementation on a state level.

House Bill 208 is a revised version of a bill introduced last year that weakened the resort’s unique special event zone laws. The newly developed bill aims to crack down on engine-revving, donut-turning nuisance drivers with strict penalties such as license revocation and car impoundment.

“As you know from last year, this is a problem we’ve been dealing with for quite some time but it anecdotally seemed to get worse during the pandemic,” the bill’s sponsor, Del. Mary Lehnman (D-21), said of the statewide exhibition driving problem during a legislative hearing on Feb. 9 in Annapolis.

“And a number of years ago, Worcester County came to this committee because exhibition driving had become such a problem on Coastal Highway and asked the legislature for the unique ability to make exhibition driving a must-appear offense,” she continued.

The problem had become so bad, that Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he was discouraging tourists and residents from coming to Ocean City during the late September pop-up event.

“When have you ever heard the mayor of Ocean City tell people not to come to Ocean City? That’s how dangerous it was, that’s how concerned we were,” Meehan said during the legislative hearing.

He and Police Chief Ross Buzzuro traveled to Annapolis to advocate for passage of House Bill 208, which has been referred to a committee and awaits second reading.

The bill is a statewide version of local legislation enacted through the creation of special event zones that have been put in place for the pop-up and other driving event weekends.

Lehman said legislators and officials across Maryland were impressed by the success of Ocean City’s laws, which included forcing the pop-up rally to Wildwood, New Jersey last year, and attempted during the 2022 session to recreate the effort statewide.

Meehan said during a Police Commission meeting on Feb. 13 that the effort missed, though, by unintentionally weakening the resort’s laws. After letting state officials know, the bill was vetoed and brought back for tweaking this year to correct the language.

“They supported the veto because they did not realize what it did to the Ocean City bill and that it wasn’t going to be as effective with the state bill,” Meehan explained.

The new bill cracks down on offenders who participate in races or speed contests and engage in exhibition driving on any highway or private property that is used for public driving.

It would mandate court appearances for offenders; assess eight points for offenses that result in no bodily injury and 12 for those with bodily injury; assesses high fines; and give police the ability to impound vehicles on the spot if they are determined unsafe or driven by someone with a suspended or revoked license.

Meehan assured members of the Police Commission that the bill would not interfere with any of the other regulations within the resort’s special event zone laws.

Lobbyist Bruce Bereano was among the law enforcement and community representatives who testified in favor of the bill during the House hearing, urging legislators to support it and not change anything in the revised version.

“Please leave what we have intact … What you did with the language that was on the books in Ocean City, that was working and successful … make that statewide,” Bearano said.

Other speakers pointed out how dangerous and disruptive exhibition driving is in communities across the state, including College Park, Silver Spring, Rockville and Annapolis. They pointed out a recent event where a driver was doing donuts on the bay bridge, and videos were shown of cars zooming loudly around parking lots and driving erratically through busy intersections as spectators videotaped and blocked traffic.

Speakers repeatedly expressed concerns about drivers blocking roads to emergency vehicles and first responders, resulting in their inability to respond to urgent situations.

The bill, which has both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors, is cross-filed as Senate Bill 147.

Another piece of legislation that would crack down on an element of exhibition driving is House Bill 1130, cross-filed as Senate Bill 229, which aims to establish a noise abatement monitoring system for vehicles.

The legislation, if passed, would create a civil ticket for cars that exceed a certain noise level as determined by a “noise camera.”

The citation would be similar to those issued for speed camera and red light violations, which assess fines and can be contested in court but do not require in-person appearances and do not assess points.

According to one speaker pushing for the passage of the bill at a Senate hearing in early February, loud exhausts typically accompany the types of modified cars involved in exhibition driving and encourage excessive speeding. Other legislators and public speakers agreed that loud exhausts are both disruptive and dangerous.

The bill has been referred to a committee and awaits second reading.

This story appears in the Feb. 24, 2023 print edition of the OC Today.

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