Resort Supports Legislation For 12-Month Exhibition Driving Charge

OCEAN CITY – Officials say proposed legislation making its way through the Maryland General Assembly could allow the Town of Ocean City to enforce exhibition driving violations year-round.

Last month, Mayor Rick Meehan, Ocean City Police Department Chief Ross Buzzuro, City Solicitor Heather Stansbury and other officials with the Town of Ocean City came before the Judicial Proceedings Committee in Annapolis to show their support for Senate Bill 147. During an Ocean City Police Commission meeting this week, Meehan said the legislation would essentially incorporate the town’s special event zone laws into Maryland law on a year-round basis.

“In other words, it wouldn’t have to be a special event zone,” he said, “and the definitions and penalties for reckless and demonstration driving would now become Maryland law.”

Simply put, Senate Bill 147 – filed by Sen. Pamela Beidle and cross-filed in the House by Del. Mary Lehman – would prohibit a person from engaging in exhibition driving, authorize the towing or impounding of vehicles involved in such violations, and provide penalties of up to one year of imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000, or both in the event of bodily injury.

In last month’s hearing in Annapolis, Meehan testified that the legislation had been effective in curbing illegal behavior associated with the unsanctioned pop-up car rally in town.

By way of background, town officials came before the state legislature in 2018 seeking a special event zone in Ocean City during select motorized events, including the unsanctioned pop-up event. The special event zone – which included reduced speed limits, higher fines and altered traffic patterns – was later amended to include the infraction of exhibition driving.

“This made a difference …,” he said. “That first year after the bill was passed, we cited less than 23 violators. The second year, we cited or arrested 56 violators. The third year, we arrested or cited two violators. The legislation discouraged this behavior in Ocean City and absolutely reduced the number of arrests and violations.”

Meehan also told members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee that the legislation had been effective in moving the event from Ocean City to Wildwood, N.J.

“This legislation is important and necessary,” he said. “These vehicles become weapons, seriously jeopardizing the safety of other vehicles, pedestrians, and citizens of the state of Maryland.”

In an update this week, Meehan told police commission members he’d hoped his testimony would encourage the General Assembly to adopt the bill. He noted the bill was vetoed last year over amendments to certain definitions.

“We have asked for a favorable recommendation without changes, and I think that’s what we’re going to get,” he said.

When asked if the legislation would still give the town the ability to adjust speed limits, Meehan said it would.

“We can still do the special event zone,” he said. “It doesn’t take that away at all.”

Buzzuro added that it would allow the town to enforce laws associated with exhibition driving at any time.

“It doesn’t have to be for a special event zone …,” he said. “We’ll be able to enforce exhibition driving day to day, on an hour-by-hour basis, if we need to. That gives us an extra ability.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.