(Dec. 20, 2013) City council approved the first reading this week of a code revision that would ban passengers riding without seats or seatbelts in the unenclosed areas of vehicles.
Specifically, the policy targets the unmistakable phenomenon of early June in the resort, where high-school students cruise Coastal Highway in the beds of pickup trucks, despite the obvious safety concerns involved – and the annoyance for residents.
“I like the idea that it’s going to cut down on the rowdiness,” said Councilman Brent Ashley. “I think this is two-fold. Public safety number one, and quality of life number two.”
The change will become law if it receives a second favorable vote at the Jan. 6 council session.
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.”
“Before you is an ordinance that we feel addresses those areas that were left unaddressed by the state,” said Lt. Scott Harner, head of traffic safety for the Ocean City Police Department.
Harner had suggested the ordinance at a previous meeting of the city’s police commission, where he noted the apparent loophole in the state’s enforcement. If there aren’t seats, you don’t have to be wearing a seatbelt.
“If we were inside the vehicle, where it is inherently safer, only then would we be required to wear a seatbelt,” Harner said.
Even if drivers with unenclosed, unrestrained passengers were operating safely, they could still be in undue danger from other motorists. 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 would be 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.