Maryland averaged 110,745 auto accidents per year from 2017 to 2021, with 45,527 injuries and 79,238 property damage incidents recorded on average in that five-year period. One person was killed in a car crash every 15 hours, and four were injured every hour in motor vehicle accidents on average in 2021. In the same year, the state’s high-crash corridors Baltimore County and Prince George County accounted for 37% of total car crashes, with the latter serving as the site of most vehicle-related fatalities statewide.
The state of Maryland abides by a data-driven approach to motorist welfare. It maintains a highly visible campaign, Zero Deaths MD, for overall traffic and roadway safety and the minimization of crash fatalities and injuries. In the same vein, stringent state legislation governs car accidents — from mandatory minimum insurance requirements and a strict statutory deadline for claims, to guidelines on legal negligence that make it relatively difficult for plaintiffs to get their due in court. Below are the state laws and regulations that motorists, car crash victims, and auto accident claimants and plaintiffs tend to encounter:
Seat Belt Laws for Drivers and Passengers
According to Maryland law, drivers and all passengers of motor vehicles must wear a seat belt at all times. Traffic law enforcement can issue tickets to motorists and other people in the car — both in the passenger seat and in the back seat — for not wearing their seat belts. Each individual caught without a seat belt fastened is subject to a maximum fine of $83. Note that law enforcement can flag down vehicles whose front-seat occupants are unbuckled (a primary offense), but they cannot ask vehicles to pull over solely for unbuckled back-seat occupants (a secondary offense).
Under Maryland’s Child Passenger Safety Law, passengers younger than 16 years old, in all seating positions and in all vehicle types, are required to be restrained in a seat belt or, for children under eight, in a federally approved child safety seat. An $83 ticket will be issued to the driver and an additional $83 ticket for every child not secured in the vehicle.
For drivers involved in a car accident case, seat belt use has no bearing in determining or proving negligence. It remains a traffic violation — or a misdemeanor if children are involved — but the fact that a plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident is not admissible in court and does not factor into the contributory negligence rule that governs determining fault in car accident claims and lawsuits.
Basic and Absolute Speeding Laws
Maryland follows two types of speeding laws — a basic speeding law and a maximum speed limits law — to accommodate both adverse and ideal driving conditions.
Basic Speeding Law
This isn’t a set number but instead governs roadway behavior, decreeing that motorists drive at a safe speed — with “safe” commensurate to real-time circumstances like the weather. Maryland motorists must drive at a reasonable and prudent pace, but they must modify their vehicle speed in accordance with the following factors: 1) current vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic; and 2) the state of the road, the amount of lighting, and the weather.
Maximum Speed Limits Law
Actual speed limits, on the other hand, indicate the maximum speed that is deemed safe under favorable or ideal traffic and roadway conditions. Motorists are prohibited from driving over the following absolute speed limits on most typical roadways in Maryland:
15 miles per hour (mph)
In alleys in Baltimore County
On divided highways in a residential district
On other undivided highways
On other divided highways
On interstate highways and expressways
Sanctions for Speeding Violations
Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration considers speeding and aggressive driving as among the leading causes of car crashes across the state: In 2021, it recorded 7,847 vehicle crashes involving speeding, with 3,187 individuals injured and 96 fatalities. Maryland’s highly visible state-wide campaign to minimize crash fatalities goes hand-in-hand with heavy sanctions on motorists: Going over absolute speed limits is automatically breaking the law, and so is driving at an unsafe speed according to the basic speeding law’s guidelines.
A violation of the basic speeding law results in a $90 fine and a one-point demerit on the offender’s driver’s license. Exceeding the posted absolute speed limits are sanctioned by the severity of the offense, or tiered by how fast a motorist was driving — starting with an $80 fine and one point on the driver’s license when cited for going over just by 1 mph to 9 mph; a $90 fine and two points for going over by 10 mph to 19 mph; and up to a $530 fine and three points on the license for going over by at least 40 mph.
Reckless Driving and Negligent Driving Misdemeanors
Some instances of speeding can result in either a reckless driving or a negligent driving citation. Both are misdemeanor offenses, with reckless driving carrying much harsher penalties. It is often difficult to distinguish the dividing line between reckless driving and negligent driving misdemeanor charges, and the degree of severity between the two — or, between a speeding violation and a misdemeanor stemming from speeding — can make it imperative for charged individuals to seek the counsel of attorneys.
A person can be charged with reckless driving if they are determined to be operating a motor vehicle with “wanton or willful disregard” for persons and property. This definition connotes a purposeful or intentional action, with the offender understanding the illegality of their conduct. Examples of speeding incidents that can lead to a reckless driving charge range from drivers who, in going over speed limits, endanger other motorists or pedestrians to drivers who are driving under the influence. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor that can be fined up to $1,000 for the first offense in a court setting and result in six demerit points on a driver’s license.
A person can be charged with negligent driving if they display a “careless or imprudent manner” that endangers individuals or jeopardizes property. A common example of negligent driving is driving erratically on roadways. Convictions can result in a fine of up to $500 in a court setting, plus three demerit points on the offender’s driver’s license.
Distracted Driving Laws
Distracted driving, under Maryland law, refers to any activity that diverts a driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving. It is cited as the most common contributing factor in traffic crashes reported to law enforcement; 50,882 crashes involving distracted driving were recorded in 2021 alone, with 21,134 injuries and 222 fatalities. Maryland law covers the use of handheld devices like smartphones: Drivers are prohibited from using their hands for their smartphones, especially for texting, while operating a motor vehicle.
Penalties for distracted driving:
First-time distracted driving offenders are subject to an $83 fine, second offenses are fined $140, and third offenses have a maximum fine of $160.
Motorists can be ticketed for texting — including writing, reading, or sending a text — with the penalty of a $70 fine and one point on their driver’s license; if the use of the device contributed to a car crash, the fine could increase to $110 and three points.
For serious violations, Maryland follows Jake’s Law, which states that a motorist that causes serious injury or death while talking or texting on a handheld cell phone may receive a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine up to $5,000.
Exceptions to distracted driving laws:
Calling first responders for emergencies.
Initiating or terminating a hands-free call.
Turning on or turning off a handheld device.
Hands-free calls are permitted to motorists over 18 but must be kept to a minimum and must abide by best safety practices like keeping call durations short.
Motorists under the age of 18 years old are strictly prohibited from using any kind of wireless communications device, including hands-free devices, while driving — with the sole exception of a 911 emergency call.
Car accident insurance claims and legal cases reliant on establishing fault can tend to overlap with the prevalence of distracted driving incidents and with Maryland’s strict guidelines on what constitutes a driver’s diversion from the road.
Contributory Negligence Law
Maryland is one of four states that follow the “contributory negligence” rule. This decrees that if a plaintiff is determined to have been even partially responsible for their car accident, then they are not eligible to receive monetary damages from the other driver.
Most states follow the “comparative negligence” rule, where compensation is commensurate to proven liability. If one driver is deemed 90% responsible for an accident and the other is 10% responsible, both parties can still receive compensation. Under Maryland’s contributory negligence rule, however, if it is determined that a plaintiff is even 1% responsible for a car accident, they are automatically barred from receiving damages.
The rigidity of Maryland’s contributory negligence rule — which has been described as “plaintiff-unfriendly” — makes it even more imperative to securely establish an adverse party’s liability in car accident claims and lawsuits.
Maryland Motor Vehicle Insurance Requirements
It is illegal to drive uninsured in Maryland. All Maryland motor vehicles must carry at all times three types of car insurance issued by a state-licensed insurance provider:
Liability insurance that covers, at a minimum: $30,000 for bodily injury, $60,000 for two or more people, and $15,000 for property damage
Uninsured motorist coverage with a minimum of $30,000 for bodily injury, $60,000 for two or more people, and $15,000 for property damage — in case of accidents involving another driver without insurance
Personal injury protection (PIP), to cover the cost of medical bills of the driver and any passengers, at a minimum of $2,500 per person
Motorists who drive uninsured are fined $150 for the first 30 days plus $7 per additional day, and their vehicle registration will be suspended. Driving with a suspended registration will result in penalties and possible impounding. Policyholders from other states must carry over their car insurance coverage under a Maryland-licensed vehicle insurance carrier.
What happens after a car accident in Maryland?
If you are involved in a car crash where an individual, including pedestrians and other motorists, has been injured: You must stay at the scene, not move your vehicle, and call law enforcement and emergency medical services. Identify the people involved and their injuries. Leaving a car crash that results in a serious injury will get the offender’s license revoked and can result in imprisonment for up to 5 years and a fine of up to $5,000. Leaving the scene of a car crash that resulted in an individual’s death is a felony.
If you are involved in a car crash and there are no injuries, but your vehicle cannot move: Call the police, advise them that you have no injuries but require police assistance, and keep safe. Protect yourself and other motorists by using hazard warning lights, road flares, or other caution signals, including traffic cones, caution signs, or non-vehicular warning signs.
If you are involved in a car accident and there are no injuries and your vehicle can still move: Call the police so that law enforcement has a record of the collision. You can exchange important information with the other driver, and you are encouraged to record the facts of the crash — including damage to the vehicles, prevailing weather and road conditions, and the testimonies of witnesses. Attorneys frequently advise that you do not discuss the accident with the driver beyond exchanging identification and insurance information, and that you do not admit fault. If the other driver’s insurance carrier reaches out to you, do not discuss details of the collision and consult with your own carrier or a lawyer.
If you strike an unoccupied or unattended vehicle or damage any kind of property: Attempt to find the owner to exchange information. Leave a notice and your information in a conspicuous place if you cannot locate the owner. If you hit a domestic animal with your car, you are required to call the police right away.
Is Maryland a no-fault state?
No. Maryland is an at-fault state for car accident insurance, so claimants can secure financial compensation if it is proven that the other driver is responsible for a car accident. Note, however, that the contributory negligence principle for civil lawsuits also applies to most insurance claims — except for certain PIP policies that pay out damages regardless of fault.
How much can someone sue for a car accident in Maryland?
For accidents that occur in 2023, Maryland sets a monetary limit of $875,000 on the compensatory damages a plaintiff can be awarded following a car accident lawsuit. Meanwhile, the current cap on damages for wrongful death lawsuits involving a car accident is $1,312,500. Note that the limit on monetary damages increases by $15,000 annually, so the amount of compensation a plaintiff may receive also factors in the year of the car accident in the computations. For example, if the car accident occurred in 2022, the maximum compensation a plaintiff may receive is $860,000.
What is the statute of limitations for car accidents in Maryland?
Maryland civil law allows plaintiffs to file personal injury and/or property damage lawsuits within three years of a car accident if a settlement cannot be reached. Car accident claims against government entities have a one-year deadline. A primary exception applies to minors, as children under 18 who want to file a lawsuit have until they turn 21 to do so.
Resources for Maryland Car Accident Victims
Previously known as the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, Maryland Auto Insurance is a state-created program that sells liability insurance to motorists whose applications have been rejected or whose coverage has been revoked by other carriers. Maryland Auto acts as a private company despite its ties to the state.
Toll-free number in Maryland: 1-800-492-7120
An online directory of free civil legal assistance — counseling services, legal advocacy, and court accompaniment — provided by volunteers. PBRC is the pro bono arm of the Maryland State Bar Association.
Main office number: 410.837.9379
A checklist to help drivers ensure that all pertinent details to file an insurance claim have been gathered. Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration suggests that a copy of this form be stored in the glove compartment of any in-use vehicle.
Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration has a list of driver services that can be started or fully accomplished online.
Request a motor vehicle accident report via an online form from the Maryland State Police.
Easy-to-consult state laws regarding compulsory insurance coverage for drivers and car owners, with a guide on fines that can be incurred and how to process penalties.
Prepared by the Motor Vehicle Administration of the Maryland Department of Transportation, this manual is provided to new drivers and includes salient rules and regulations in the operation of a motor vehicle.
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