Maryland Bill Could Make Blocking Four-way Intersection Illegal

By CARA NEWCOMER, Capital News Service | February 23, 2017

Vehicles that enter an intersection but fail to cross it once the light turns red would be subject to a ticket and fine under a “don’t block the box” bill sponsored by Delegate Al Carr, D-Montgomery.

The goal of the bill is to address the problem of traffic congestion, to make the state’s roadways and intersections safer and to increase the road capacity during busy hours, according to Carr.

However, this bill makes an exception for certain cases. The bill states that a vehicle making a left turn can enter an intersection while yielding the right-of-way to any other vehicle approaching from the opposite direction and a vehicle making a right turn can enter the intersection while yielding the right-of-way to a pedestrian or bicyclist.

Both Carr and Capt. Thomas Didone, director of the Montgomery County Police Department Traffic Division, pointed out a handful of intersections in Montgomery County where blocking the box affects the flow of traffic, including Georgia Avenue and Seminary Road; Connecticut Avenue and Knowles Avenue; Connecticut Avenue near Bradley Lane; and Route 355 and Route 124.

Carr said it helps that this law has already been established in other states. The District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island each have a similar law.

Maryland’s current law states if a car enters the intersection when the light is green or yellow, then that car has the right of way, according to Didone.

Tori Hall, a resident of Bethesda, Maryland, told a House committee she believes this bill is just housekeeping and that most people already think of it as law. “This bill would clarify what most people already think of as common courtesy and safe driving,” Hall said.

“It makes sense to prevent gridlock and allow pedestrians and emergency vehicles to get through,” Hall said.

Didone said he understands that the duration of lights varies at different locations, but he believes with practice people will be able to decipher when it is appropriate to pull into an intersection.

“Drivers desperate to avoid being caught in the next light cycle sometimes enter the intersection whether or not there’s room,” Carr said. “Driver frustration can escalate, creating road rage incidents and aggressive maneuvers.”

Didone said he wants to discourage the behavior of cars rushing into an intersection on a yellow light to avoid waiting another light cycle. “(It will be) a monument change of the right-of-way for light intersections,” Didone said.

Delegate William Wivell, R-Washington, cast the lone vote against the bill in the House Environment and Transportation committee Feb. 9. “The bill was introduced to allow a better flow of traffic, but if you look at it the other way, if someone doesn’t pull forward it could block traffic that way,” Wivell told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

Wivell said he believes the bill will be difficult to enforce and it won’t increase the flow of traffic. “I don’t see the need for it and I just think it will create more problems,” Wivell said.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association Executive Director Greg Billing wrote testimony in favor of the bill saying it would help prevent traffic accidents. “Keeping intersections clear of vehicles is important for all road users, especially at-risk people riding bicycles or walking.”

The Maryland Department of Transportation has not taken a stance on the bill, according to Erin Henson, public affairs director for the agency.

“A violation of this provision is a misdemeanor, subject to the existing penalty of a $500 maximum fine,” according to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis.

The bill passed second reading Tuesday in the state House of Delegates and is expected to be voted on for final passage in the chamber Wednesday. A Senate bill cross-filed with the House version is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee Wednesday.

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