(Oct. 18, 2013) A new traffic ordinance, introduced recently to the city’s Police Commission, could erase one of the most recognizable signs of June in the resort.
For many years, participants in the customary post-graduation “Senior Week” have enjoyed cruising Coastal Highway in the backs of pickup trucks, sometimes sitting in lawn chairs or even lining the bed with a tarp to make a mobile swimming pool.
But as with all of western civilization’s great traditions – such as child labor, public execution, or excessively large sodas – there comes a time when government steps in to protect people from their own bad ideas.
“I think [the ordinance] stays in step with the state and what I interpret as their desire to keep passengers belted and safer,” said Lt. Scott Harner, the Ocean City Police Department’s head of traffic enforcement. “It doesn’t take a collision reconstructionist to tell you what’s going to happen if a truck full of kids has to stop suddenly.”
New state traffic laws, which went into effect the first of this month, 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, the law does not reference those who are not riding in a seat at all.
Thus, the city ordinance now being floated will go 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.”
The proposed policy, Harner noted, is taken directly from the same law which has been in effect in Anne Arundel County for some years.
“This is not precedent-setting,” Harner said. “It’s been in enforcement in Anne Arundel and a few other places, many of which are where we draw visitors from.”
Violation of the ban would result in a $50 fine, per Harner’s proposal.
While the ordinance is by no means set in stone – and will have to go through several readings before the entire city council before passage – the response from the Police Commission to the idea was generally favorable.
“In all probability, this would eliminate the use of truck beds [as passenger space], at least until someone catches on with something else,” said commission chair Doug Cymek.
Council President and commission member Lloyd Martin recounted that, on a recent vacation, he had ridden in the back of a pickup which had seats and harnesses mounted in it specifically for the purpose of sight-seeing.
“If people want to do it, there’s a safe way to do it,” Martin said.
Even if drivers with unenclosed, unrestrained passengers were operating safely, their passengers could still be in undue danger from other motorists. In some instances, OCPD Capt. Kevin Kirstein noted, trucks have been rear-ended, causing them to lurch forward and knock riders out onto the car that hit them.
“You don’t even have to be doing anything wrong for this [policy] to protect you,” Kirstein said.
Two exceptions would likely be made to the ordinance – one for government employees performing specific duties, such as placing traffic cones or riding on trash trucks, and another for city-approved events on closed courses, such as parades.
“We have had a great deal of issues with behavior in the backs of trucks as well,” Harner noted. “I think this would help with some of the disorderly conduct.”
“I don’t think the parents exactly know that that’s what [their children] are doing when they come down here,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I would rather be proactive about it now than reactionary if something bad happens.”