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AAA, others back negligent-killing-by-auto bill

AAA Mid-Atlantic will join other supporters at a noon new conference in Annapolis to rally support for a pending bill that would create a new charge of "negligent homicide by motor vehicle" that could be applied in cases where a personn's bad driving leads to the death of another.

The legislation would fill a gap between the traffic offense of negligent driving and the felony of vehicular manslaughter -- a charge that is difficult to prove without evidence of extreme negligence such a drunk driving. The new charge would be a misdemeanor punishable by a  three-year prison term and a $5,000 fine.

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AAA's Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson will be joined by family members of crash victims and by General Assembly  sponsors of House Bill 388 and Senate Bill 870.

Advocates contend the current law often lets drivers "get away with murder" and get only a traffic ticker. There's some merit to that, particularly because Maryland  law allows someone charged wiith negligent driving to pay the fine by mail and not appear in court to face the survivors of the victim. But the three-year term for what is essentially the unfortunate result of bad driving, could be seen as disproportionate.

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The law make clear that simple negligence is not enough to merit the charge. It defines thhe offense as a "failure to perceive" a risk that "consitutes a substantial deviation from the standard of care that would be exercised by a reasonable person."

That offense sounds worthy of a hefty fine, significant driver's license sanctions and community service -- penalties not available under the negligent driving statute. But three years in jail? That could end up punishing the result rather then the conduct that led to it. Somewhere there ought to be a middle ground.

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