Enhanced Event Bill Could Include Exhibition Driving

OCEAN CITY — While moving the Sunfest dates this year has already been announced as one possible solution, another key component is enhancing the existing special event zone legislation including a proposed new violation defined as “exhibition driving.”

Three years ago, after several unruly and disruptive unsanctioned motorized special events, resort officials began exploring ways to combat some of the illicit and reckless activity. Out of those brainstorming sessions was borne a desire to create a special event zone with enhanced penalties for speeding and other violations during certain sanctioned and unsanctioned motorized special events.

State lawmakers that following winter passed legislation facilitating the creation of special event zones in Ocean City during some of the motorized events with reduced speed limits and enhanced penalties for a variety of infractions. Last year, after another troublesome motorized special event season, town officials requested their representatives in Annapolis propose revisions to already-approved special event zone legislation including enhanced penalties for reckless and negligent driving.

However, those cross-filed bills never made it out of their respective Senate and House subcommittees and died on the floor as the session expired. Now, with the new General Assembly session opening on Wednesday, resort officials have requested Senator Mary Beth Carozza and Delegate Wayne Hartman submit new changes to the existing legislation including a provision for exhibition driving.

“It’s not a surprise we’re going to attempt to strengthen the language in the existing special event zone bill already approved by the legislature,” Carozza said this week. “We need those other provisions and additions to address reckless driving, negligent driving, the spinning of wheels and those types of things.”

Carozza said instead of crafting an entirely new bill, the strategy is to utilize the framework of the existing legislation and enhance it with penalties for exhibition driving, for example.

“Much of this legislation has already been approved,” she said. “It needs to be strengthened based on what happened last year, specifically along the lines of exhibition driving. We want to build on what has worked well to this point and enhance the special event zone bill to address these other issues.”

With a change in the State Senate leadership, Carozza this fall facilitated a meet-and-greet with new Senate President Bill Ferguson and constituents and stakeholders in her district. At that meeting, Meehan broached the subject of the enhanced special event zone legislation which could help lay the groundwork for approval of the proposed legislation during the current session.

“Mayor Meehan had the opportunity to raise some of these issues with the new Senate President Bill Ferguson when he visited the area this fall,” she said. “It was very helpful to make the Senate president aware of these concerns.”

Carozza acknowledged enhanced legislation is only one tool in the larger toolbox aimed at curbing some of the issues with the motorized special events.

“Legislation is only one part of a larger solution,” she said. “We’re looking at all possible solutions. The legislation did provide some relief, but this is only part of addressing the problem.”

Carozza and Hartman received the town’s requested legislation changes this week and by day one of the General Assembly session were already working with the Department of Legislative Services on crafting the proposed language in the bill, particularly the section regarding exhibition driving. Some jurisdictions have already begun addressing similar situations with exhibition driving legislation.

In South Dakota, for example, exhibition driving is a misdemeanor with enhanced penalties for the defined activity. The South Dakota legislation defines exhibition driving as causing unnecessary engine noise, tire squealing, skidding, sliding upon acceleration, simulating at temporary race or causing a vehicle to unnecessarily turn abruptly or sway.

Other jurisdictions have adopted similar approaches although the language is subtly different. In Minnesota, for example, a “careless” driving violation is different from traditional reckless driving or negligent driving and the difference is essentially intent.

In Minnesota, careless driving is defined as a motorist carelessly or heedlessly operating or halting a vehicle on any street or highway with disregard to the rights of others, or who endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, including themselves or their passengers.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.