Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller put her weight behind two road safety bills in the General Assembly this week, including one that would significantly raise fines for speeding in work zones and another adding potential jail time for motorists that crash into users of dedicated bike lanes.

Transportation and road safety are key issues for the former Montgomery County Delegate and civil and transportation engineer for her home county’s transportation department.

The Maryland Road Worker Protection Act would codify in law some of the recommendations of the Governor’s Work Zone Safety Work Group, formed last April in the wake of a high-speed crash on I-695 that killed six construction workers. It was the deadliest work zone crash in the history of the state.

The two drivers were indicted on manslaughter and traffic violations last June. They were driving more than double the posted speed limit of 55 mph, police said.

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There were about three work zone crashes every day across Maryland last year, Miller said Thursday in testimony on the legislation before the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Gov. Wes Moore appointed Miller to lead the work zone safety group, which sent a list of recommendations to his desk in November. Some of those required legislation to enact.

The bill would increase the citation amount from speed cameras posted in work zones from $40 to $290 for a first or second violation per calendar year. A third violation in the same year could get as high as $1,000. It authorizes the State Highway Administration to use multiple speed cameras along a single work zone and strips a requirement that all cameras be human-operated. The current $40 fine is the lowest in the country, Miller noted.

Driver education and physical infrastructure changes could complement the stricter enforcement measures outlined in the bill, Miller said.

“We needed to bring a culture change to driver behavior comprehensively,” Miller said in her testimony. Miller and other officials including Motor Vehicles Administrator Chrissy Nizer, who also testified in support of the bill, have emphasized the need for drivers to take more personal responsibility as roadway fatalities went up in 2023. Maryland ended last year with more than 600 roadway deaths for the first time since 2007.

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Miller likened the necessary culture change — drive slower, put the phone down, and limit other risky driving behaviors — to the one that occurred in the decades since seat belts became required.

“Safer driving in work zones will lead to safer driving everywhere. By intercepting dangerous driving habits, we can lower the number of crashes and fatalities across the state of Maryland, making for a safer state for road workers, motorists, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians,” Miller said.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller addresses the media at a podium outside surrounded by signs that encourage drivers to take an online safety survey.
Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller announced a new work zone safety survey for drivers outside the Glen Burnie headquarters of the Motor Vehicle Administration on Sept. 21. (Daniel Zawodny)

Business, labor groups and law enforcement also testified in support of the legislation. Family members of some of the construction workers killed in last year’s crash were present, but did not testify.

“Over 100 years of experience was lost in a matter of seconds,” testified Mike Higgins, general manager of construction firm Concrete General, where most of the construction workers were employed.

The lone opposing testimony came from John A. Giannetti Jr., a former state lawmaker from Anne Arundel County who said he supports the bill in principle, but pushed back on increasing the fines. Giannetti said that he was part of a bipartisan group to first get speed camera laws in the state, and that the fine amount was intentionally set low at $40 to avoid the look of a money-grab.

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The sentiment resonated with Republican member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee Sen. William Folden, who said the bill “was warranted,” but asked several detailed questions. He asked whether cameras would be active in work zones even when workers were not present, and pushed back on language in the bill that would remove a 30-day warning period for issuing new citations.

Miller said multiple times that increasing state revenue was not the purpose of the bill. The legislation would limit drivers to receiving just one citation if caught for speeding by multiple cameras in the same work zone.

Increasing penalties for hitting cyclists

In August 2022, Sarah Debbink Langenkamp was riding home from her two sons’ Bethesda elementary school in a bike lane when a turning truck crushed her, killing her instantly. In 2011, Nathan Krasnopoler was riding back to his Johns Hopkins dorm room when an older driver ran him over, leaving the 20-year-old computer science student brain dead. He would die months later.

Members of their families both testified Thursday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and House Environment and Transportation Committee in favor of companion versions of the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Memorial Act.

“We’re struggling with half of our income, grief and trauma, I have a new child care burden, all because a careless driver didn’t realize that a bike lane was something that you need to take care about,” said Daniel Langenkamp, Sarah Langenkamp’s widower. “This bill says bike lanes matter, it tells society that these are protected spaces.”

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Lt. Gov. Miller stood behind Langenkamp and his two sons the day before at a U.S. Department of Transportation convening on roadway safety event where he offered similar testimony.

The bill would take the same penalties on the books for motorists who don’t stop for pedestrians at crosswalks when they should and apply them to users of dedicated bike lanes. If a motorist fails to yield the right of way to a cyclist, scooter rider or other user of a dedicated bike lane and it leads to a crash, they could face fines up to $2,000 and/or up to two months in jail.

Currently, drivers could face fines and other penalties for traffic violations, but no jail time.

Critics of dedicated bike lanes have pointed to Langenkamp’s death as an example of why they are not actually safe. In an article for Forbes a month after Langenkamp was killed, Diana Furchtgott-Roth said they provided a “false sense of security.”

Susan Cohen, mother of Krasnopoler, disagrees. Visiting from out of town to testify in support of the bill, she visited the site where her son was hit to lay flowers on a white “ghost bike” that commemorates his memory. Baltimore’s DOT has since shielded the bike lane on University Parkway north of Johns Hopkins’ campus with a row of street parking; before, the lane it was right next to traffic. She believes her son might still be alive under the current design.

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At Thursday’ hearing, Sen. Chris West shared an anecdote of nearly being struck by a cyclist in a bike lane while walking in Amsterdam, highlighting the difference of the car-first culture in the U.S. Though supportive of the bill in principle, he expressed concerns about drivers being able to see bike lane users in time, especially cyclists traveling at high rates of speed.

“Does the law require me to look way back and make an assessment at how fast the bicycle is traveling before turning right across the bike lane?” asked West. “Should I really be penalized by up to a $2,000 fine if I were to turn and a bicycle moving really quickly hits my car and gets injured?”

Both road safety bills have been introduced for the first time this year, but stand the chance to get passed given the strong support from the Moore administration.

This story was updated to correct the spelling of Nathan Krasnopoler as well as the county that former lawmaker John A. Giannetti represented.

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues.

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