(Jan. 10, 2014) City Council made a favorable final vote this week on an ordinance banning passengers riding without seats or seatbelts in the unenclosed areas of vehicles.
Although the new policy could potentially apply to any number of different traffic scenarios, what the city specifically has in mind is quelling the common Senior Week practice of cruising Coastal Highway in the beds of pickup trucks.
New state traffic laws, which went into effect in late 2013, require all rear-seat passengers in a vehicle to be wearing seat belts. Maryland previously only required front seat passengers and those under 16 to be belted.
However, given the language of the law, those who are not actually inside the vehicle on seats are not subject to any safety stipulations.
This loophole has been kept in Maryland for decades in deference to agricultural workers. But in the resort, the most common use is clearly recreational.
Thus, the municipal ordinance goes one step further, by declaring it “unlawful for a person to ride in or allow another person to ride in an unenclosed area of a motor vehicle except in a seat and with a seat belt in use.”
At this week’s council session, Councilman Brent Ashley also suggested that the city look into an express ban on throwing lit cigarette butts out of car windows. The city’s littering law may already cover this, but Ashley suggested a specific policy may help to drive the point home.
“Like the pickup trucks, I think that’s another big quality-of-life issue on our roads during the summer,” Ashley said.
Councilman and Police Commission Chair Doug Cymek said he would bring the issue up with the Ocean City Police Department at next week’s commission meeting.
The new law on unenclosed vehicles had first been suggested at a previous Police Commission meeting, where the OCPD noted some instances in which trucks have been rear-ended, causing them to lurch forward and launch those in the bed back onto the car that hit them.
Violations of the new ordinance are punishable by a maximum $250 fine, although initial enforcement would likely mete out much lower fines.
The code also provides for three key exceptions to the rule for emergency vehicles, city employees performing specific duties, and for those in town-approved events on closed courses, such as parades.