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April 16, 2014

Autonomous Vehicles May Be Introduced In the District of Columbia

A couple of states in the United States have begun to legalize the operation of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles are also known as driveless cars, driver-free cars and self-driving cars. By Autonomous it is meant that a vehicle is capable of fulfilling the human transportation capabilities of a traditional car. An autonomous vehicle is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input or interaction. These vehicles sense their surroundings with the use of radars, GPS and computer vision. It is with these tools that the vehicle is able to navigate through streets as well as obstacles on the road. These vehicles keep track of their position even when conditions change in their surroundings.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established an official classification system for Autonomous vehicles. The 5 levels are as follows:

Level 0: Drivers completely control the vehicle at all times;

Level 1: Individual vehicle controls are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking;

Level 2: Two or more controls can be automated in unison, such as cruise control in combination with lane keeping; and

Level 3: The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and providers a sufficiently comfortable transition time for the driver to do so.

Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions.

These autonomous vehicles may be introduced in the District of Columbia in the coming weeks since new rules were introduced last week. The District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles published a set of new guidelines last Friday, in accordance with the Autonomous Vehicle Act of 2012, to allow drivers to obtain licenses for self-driving vehicles, and if there are no objections, will go into effect in 30 days. If this goes into effect, the District of Columbia would be the first jurisdiction to license self-driving operators. The process to obtain these special self-driving operator licenses is as simple as taking a self-driver training seminar, filling out the proper paperwork and paying the $20 fee. The application process means that each person trying to obtain this special license needs to acknowledge that they will be deemed the "Driver" of the vehicle while it is operating in autonomous mode, and are therefore responsible for speeding, rolling thru stop signs, and missing or passing thru traffic signals. This means that they are subject to the same traffic laws that non-autonomous cars and drivers have to follow.

Each applicant will also have to complete a training seminar and obtain certification in the operation of autonomous vehicles. These courses will be provided by self-driving car dealerships and manufacturers. Once the course is completed, forms executed, license fee paid and license obtained, each driver will have a new "A" printed on their license to show that they are certified to operate an autonomous vehicle. Once the operator is issued a license the final step is to apply for a special license plate that will only be used for self-driving cars.

Some of the advantages of autonomous vehicles are that fewer traffic accidents and collisions will happen, due to the system's increased reliability and faster reaction time compared to human drivers, roadway capacity will increase and traffic congestion decreased due to the reduced need for safety gaps and the ability to better manage traffic flow, relief of vehicle occupants from driving, higher speed limits, removal of constraints on occupants' state, due to the fact that the drivers age, blindness, distractedness, intoxication or other impairment will not matter, and alleviation of parking scarcity, are a few of the advantages of autonomous vehicles.

Some of the obstacles however are Liability for damages, software reliability, resistance for individuals to give up control of their vehicles, Cyber security, the implementation of legal framework and the establishment of government regulations for self-driving cars, drivers will become less experienced when manual driving is needed and the loss of driver related jobs.

April 11, 2013

Remembering the Rules of the Road

As warmer temperatures arrive in Maryland, more people get out on the roads, be it in bicycles, by foot and by motor vehicles. It is important to remember the rules of the road and to share the road with pedestrians and cyclists. The Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration (SHA), the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and the Maryland State Police (MSP) are reminding everyone to obey the rules of the road and to drive and bike responsibly.

Traffic accidents continue to be one of the leading causes of death for Maryland residents. This means that thousands of Maryland residents suffer injuries and are overall economically impacted by motor vehicle accidents. Therefore, it is important for all motorists to be fully aware of the increase in both vehicle and pedestrian volume on the roads. Everyone is reminded to obey the posted speed limits on Maryland roads, not to drink and drive, to avoid distractions, such as cell phone use, texting and the like, and to always wear seatbelts and safety belts.

Aggressive driving and speeding are real threats on roadways in Maryland. Speeding contributes to about 40% of aggressive driving deaths, according to studies conducted by the MVA and the Highway Safety.

Here are some tips for safe driving: Remember to Buckle up, slow down, always drive sober, focus and share the road with everyone. Plan ahead. In Maryland, one can sign up for MD511 to learn about travel delays and construction activity along state routes. This will help you remain safe on roadways. Also, make sure and not text while driving. Make your vehicle a no phone zone while you are operating the vehicle. If you must use the telephone, make sure you use hands-free devices. Be use and keep an eye out for construction workers and utility crew members on the roads. Most of these people are issued orange and lime colored vests/safety equipment, so be sure and keep an eye out for them. And lastly, perform vehicle safety checks. Make sure your vehicle's tire pressure is correct and that all the vehicle's fluids are at the roper levels.

For more safety information, visit the Maryland Department of Transportation safety page at www.1.usa.gov/10zMfX4

December 17, 2012

The Dangers of Distracted Driving

More than 300 people died nationally in 2010 in motor vehicle accidents in which a distracted driver was involved and about 416,000 people were injured, according to a government report published in July 2012.

Distracted drivers are people who are not paying attention to the road and are otherwise distracted from the important task of driving. These distractions can include talking with passengers, eating and/or drinking, using electronic devices, such as cell phones, and other technological devices, such as GPS systems and satellite radio systems.

Texting while driving is the most common, serious and deadliest distraction of them all, because the drivers mental, visual and physical attention is diverted from being able to drive safely. Texting and using other electronic devices causes up to 25% of all crashes, nationwide, according to a report published by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Distracted drivers; mainly those who text while driving, are 23 times more likely to be involved in car crashes, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. That is why it is illegal to text while driving in 39 states, including Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.

If you are driving and witness the following behaviors it is important for you to take some steps to save yourself from harm.

If you see a driver:
- Going much faster than the posted speed limit, going much slower than the speed limit, changing lanes without signaling, weaving in and out of traffic, cannot maintain lane position and stops longer than needed at a traffic light or sign

You Must:
- Assume that the distracted driver doesn't see your vehicle
- Give your vehicle space from the distracted driver's vehicle
- Try to pull ahead or slow down from the distracted driver
- If you cannot slow down or pull ahead of the distracted driver, call 911

October 3, 2012

Older Driver Safety in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia

According to the Associated Press, older drivers are on the road more than ever before. Nearly 34 million drivers are 65 or older. By 2030, deferral estimates show there will be about 57 million, making up about a quarter of all licensed drivers.

Older drivers have the highest rate of deadly crashes per mile even though they don't drive as often as younger drivers. Measured by miles driven, older drivers crash rates begin to rise in their 70s and even more in their 80s, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Health Issues can also impair older drivers. Health issues such as: arthritis and dementia, slower reflexes and they also use multiple medications, which can impair their driving. On average, about 60% of seniors voluntarily cut back their driving. Most avoid driving at night, on interstates and during bad weather. Older drivers seem to have more difficulty with intersections, making left turns, and changing lanes and/or merging. This is due to their gradual decline in vision and reaction times that come with aging.

In the District of Columbia seniors are required to have more vision tests, are required to renew their licenses more often than younger drivers and starting at the age of 70, older drivers must submit a doctor's certification that they are healthy enough to drive every time they renew their licenses. In Maryland, the Motor Vehicle Administration requires all people, starting at the age of 40, to take eye exams, and in Virginia, starting at the age of 80, drivers must renew their license in person and also pass an eye exam.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a national guideline for older driver safety earlier this summer. The proposal recommends that every state needs a program to improve older driver safety, doctors should be protected from lawsuits id they report a possibly unsafe driver and driver's licenses should be renewed in person after a certain age. These recommendations would push states to become more consistent and have safer roads.

September 25, 2012

"Give Bikes 3 Feet When Passing - It's the Law", in Maryland

In October of 2010, the state of Maryland enacted the vehicle law, SB 51, which states the rules of the road in regards to keeping three feet of space between a vehicle and a bicyclist when passing a bicyclist. This includes bicycles and motor scooters.

Therefore, a new campaign was announced by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) this week for Cyclists in order to remind drivers and bicyclists that the SB 51 law exists. The new campaign is being called the "Give Bikes Three Feet When Passing - It's the Law" in order to promote bicycles safety.
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It has been proven that in the fall months more people use bicycles to commute around Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, therefore; the MVA added this new slogan to their outer envelopes of more than 120,000 vehicle registration renewal notices and in addition, distributed over 5,000 yard sticks (3 feet in length) all over Maryland to visually illustrate the distance drivers must provide when overtaking a bicycle.

This new campaign will educate the public and possibly change behaviors in order to have fewer bicyclists injured and killed on Maryland roads. It mainly means that everyone should share the roads. For more information, please visit the www.mva.maryland.gov

September 10, 2012

Dangers of Distracted Driving

The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) has published the following video regarding distracted driving and how it can and does cause a lot of automobile accidents. The Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) also helped and participated in the making of this video. The video was created because 152,000 people were injured as a result of distracted driving between 2007 and 2011. Out of these 152,000 people injured, 1,100 of them were killed as a result.

July 5, 2012

How Common Are Seizures While Driving?

Seizures are defined as episodes of disturbed brain activity that cause changes in attention or behavior.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are two main types of seizures. The first is Primary Generalized seizures, which involve both sides of the brain and the second is Partial seizures, which involve smaller regions of the brain.

Suffering a seizure while driving is extremely rare, but it is far more likely to end in death than suffering a seizure anywhere else. In a 2009 report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration it was determined that:

- only about 1.3% of all drivers have been involved in a medical emergency crash;

- older drivers are more likely to be involved in medical emergency crashes;

- drivers involved in medical emergency crashes usually are aware of their medical
condition prior to the accident;

- drivers who suffer from a medical condition and are involved in medical emergency crashes are more likely to be severely injured or to die as a result; and

- the most dangerous time of day for medical emergency crashes are between 6am and noon.

Therefore; drivers who suffer from seizures should contact their state's motor vehicle department to see what their rules are in regards to drivers with this medical condition. Rules vary from state to state and some states may bar you from driving for a period of time.

June 26, 2012

How to Tell if a Traffic Ticket Will Raise Your Insurance Rates

Here are three things that must happen in order for an automobile insurance company to raise your rates, once you have been issued a traffic ticket/citation:

1) The ticket must show up on your motor vehicle record (MVR);
2) Your state must allow insurance companies to penalize you for the violation, and
3) Your Insurance company must consider the violation a risk factor

Automobile insurance companies won't consider traffic violations/tickets that do not appear on your MVR. MVR's usually only reflect moving violations that endanger lives or property. Such violations include: running red lights, changing lanes without caution, speeding, DUI/DWI, reckless driving, etc..

If the violation appears on your MVR and your automobile insurance company finds out about it, your rates usually increase about 5% for the first ticket, but if you have various violations on your MVR, then your rates could go up about 20% or more. Multiple violations reveal a pattern of bad decisions and behavior as a driver and make you a higher risk to your automobile insurance company.

March 22, 2012

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As of July 1, 2012, in the state of Virginia, every first time drunk-driving offender will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their automobile. The ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer in your vehicle that prevents the vehicle from starting if the driver fails the on-board alcohol breath test. In Virginia, the device is set to fail if the reading is above 0.02 percent blood alcohol content. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sets the standards for the device and it varies from state to state. The device is quite small and integrated into your automobiles starting mechanism.

This new punishment bill for drunk drivers was approved by over 80% of legislators in Virginia, making the state one of the 15 states that already require mandatory interlock ignition devices for first time drunk driving offenders. In Virginia alone there were over 30,000 DUI and DWI convictions, out of which most offenders had a blood alcohol content of 0.14, in 2010. As for automobile accidents: alcohol related crashes were about 7% of total accidents, but made up about 37% of fatal accidents in Virginia, in 2010.

The Guidelines for the new law require that:
- A judge will order the installation of the ignition interlock device. After which, the court clerk will register the court order with the Department of Motor Vehicles, which will restrict the defendants driver's license and then the driver must show proof that the ignition device was properly installed in their vehicle, within 30 days of the court order.
- The court will revoke the driver's restricted license if the offender does not install the device within the 30 days after the court order is made and if the device is not properly maintained and monitored.
- An electronic log of all breathalyzer test readings will be maintained by the device. Should the offender fail any of the tests, both random and initial starter tests, the vehicle's horn will sound, repeatedly, and the lights will flash.
- The device must remain in the offenders' vehicle for 6 consecutive months without a failed breathalyzer test result and the offender may not drive any other vehicle without the device.
- After a second DUI/DWI conviction, every vehicle registered and owned by the offender must have a device installed.

In addition to the ignition interlock device, the following are also consequences of drunk-driving punishments in Virginia:
- Suspension, restriction and or revocation of the offenders' license
- Jail or prison time
- Fines
- Community service
- Probation
- Alcohol education
- Criminal record
- Treatment
- Vehicle impoundment, and
- Repayment of costs incurred by the state for state property damage, police costs and fire/emergency services

Therefore; if you or a loved one is arrested for and/or charged with DUI or DWI, you must contact my office to discuss your legal rights and discuss a plan of defense.

January 19, 2012

Electric Car Charging Stations Coming to an Area Near You

Electric Car.jpgIn the state of Maryland there are 202 plug-in electric vehicles registered, of which, 94 of them are registered in Montgomery County. The owners of these plug-in electric vehicles will now have more charging stations throughout the county. A national real estate and development firm, Federal Realty, is in partnership with Car Charging Group to install eight more electric charging stations on the east coast, seven of which will be right here in the metropolitan area. In Montgomery county there will be one at the Rockville Town Square and one at Bethesda Row. The charging stations will be of the category level II and 240-volts. Charging stations come in three levels, the higher the level, the quicker the electric car charges.

These charging stations work just like gas pumps. All you need to do is pull up, plug-in and pay for the electricity with a credit card. The cost per hour of electrical charging will be between $3.00 to $4.00. An electric car can travel an average of 100 to 200 miles between charges.

There are also a lot of tax benefits to owning an electric car. Anyone who registers and titles a plug-in electric vehicle in the state of Maryland through July 1, 2013, is eligible to claim $2,000 excise motor vehicle tax credit along with the already established $7,000 federal tax credit for owning electric vehicles. Also, owners of electric cars can claim a $400 tax credit toward the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in their homes.

For more information on the locations of charging stations in your area, please visit www.mychargepoint.net

August 12, 2011

Emergency Contact Information Database Now Available in Maryland

Drivers in the state of Maryland can now electronically store emergency contact information onto their driving records at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. This information will help police officers and other law enforcement officials contact family members of people involved in serious and fatal automobile accidents quicker.

Contact information can be uploaded by visiting the MVA website at www.mva.maryland.gov/emvastore/ or by visiting any MVA kiosks located at both full and express MVA locations. Any Maryland driver with a valid Maryland driver's license or state issued identification card can add up to three emergency contacts. The contact information is safely stored and is only accessible to law enforcement officials.

In order to upload your contact information online; you will need the following:
- an email address or phone number
- driver's license number
- date of birth
- last 4 digits of your Social Security number

Eight other states have the same type of emergency contact program to date. Some of the states that do not do offer a downloadable emergency contact card that people can carry with them at all times.

July 5, 2011

New Traffic Law in Virginia Effective July 1, 2011

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Virginia drivers, under the age of 21, could have their license suspended for a year if they get behind the wheel after drinking alcoholic beverages. These underage drinkers and drivers will face stiffer penalties for driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .02% or more. Violators will have their license suspended for a year and will receive either a fine of up to $500 or 50 hours of community service.

May 31, 2011

Maryland Drivers Ranked Among the Worst Drivers in the U.S.

GMAC Insurance published the results of an annual National Driver's Test in May 2011 which ranked the state of Maryland 49th out of 51 states with the worst knowledge of the rules of the road. Maryland scored 73.3%. Hawaii was behind with 73% and the District of Columbia was ranked the worst. The state with the best results, of 82.9% was Kansas.

Maryland's test results for 2011 came as a surprise, seeing that the state ranked 20th in 2010 and 41st in the 2009 results. The 29 place plunge in this year results were only beaten by Alaska, which went from 10th to 40th place.

The GMAC Insurance Annual National Driver's Test polls 5130 drivers aged 16-65 nationwide. The test consists of 20 questions taken from each state's driver's license exam. The average results nationwide for 2011 improved from 76.2% to 77.9%.

The Chief Marketing Officer for GMAC, Mr. Scott Eckman, stated that drivers are forgetting some of the more basic rules of the road. Driver's are most commonly forgetting the distance a driver must keep between their vehicle and the one in front and also how to respond when a traffic light turns yellow just a vehicle reaches the intersection. The rule is to continue through the intersection, rather than braking abruptly. Only 15% of people answered the later question correctly.


May 9, 2011

Cameras Being Placed on Maryland School Buses

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In a study conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education, in February 2011, there were 7,028 violations recorded during one single day, for drivers who illegally passed stopped school buses with flashing lights. The study was conducted on 65% of Maryland's bus drivers. 4,000 of these violators were oncoming drivers, who failed to stop. 2,665 drivers passed the buses from behind on the driver's side and 366 drivers passed the buses on the passenger side.

Violating the law in Maryland, currently has a fine of up to $1,000 and three points on your driving record, if a police officer stops you, after failing to stop at least 20 feet from the school bus that has the flashing red lights operating.

Therefore, a new legislation is being passed in Maryland, where cameras would be placed on the buses by county police and the department of education to catch these violators. The violators would be fined $250. No points would be added to ones driving record and it would not be considered a moving violation, but the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) could refuse to register or suspend the registration of vehicles in cases where the fines we unpaid.

July 26, 2010

Ticketed in Maryland: What Are Your Options?

Once the ticket has been written, you have two easy steps you can take: Pay the ticket or appear in court.
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When you are issued a ticket and the officer checks the "Notice to Appear" box, you have three of the following options:
- Plead "guilty" and pay the fine. Be aware however, that a plea of guilt results in the charge becoming part of your driving record. You have 15 days to pay the ticket. If the ticket is not paid within 15 days, you will automatically receive a trial date set by the court.
- Wait for trial notice and appear in court. At trial, you and the officer that issued the ticket have the opportunity to appear in court and testify in front of a judge. If you are found guilty, you have the right to an appeal within 30 days. If you do not appear at your trial, the Motor Vehicle Administration will suspend your driver's license.
- Plead "guilty with an explanation". This option gives you the opportunity for a hearing. At the hearing you can request that the fine be reduced or waived.

"Must appear" tickets are given for more serious infractions, such as, driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, driving on a suspended license, etc. , according to the District Court of Maryland.

The Maryland General Assembly has passed a new law that will come into effect on January 1, 2011. This new law requires anyone who wants a trial to formally request one. The state will no longer automatically send you a trial date notice for a traffic violation. Once the law goes into effect, you have 30 days to respond by either, paying the fine, requesting a hearing or requesting a trial date. When you request a trial date, the District Court will give you a date and time to show up in court, in front of a judge. You may bring witnesses and any evidence to prove your case.

The previous law was changed because the courts were receiving complaints from various jurisdictions about officers wasting time appearing at trials where the defendants did not appear. The new law states that failure to take one of the above options means the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) can and will suspend your license.