From May 15–20, all of Ocean City will be placed under a Special Event Zone, with lower speed limits and increased traffic fines.When the "Special Event Zone" bill was making its way through the Maryland state legislature, Ocean City officials claimed that the powers were necessary to combat out-of-control events like H2Oi. The legislation -- which was signed into law last month -- allows for Ocean City to lower the speed limit and increase traffic fines any time 1,000 or more people are congregating in the town for an event, similar to how fines are hiked in school and construction zones. Under the new law, speeding ticket fines can be raised up to $1,000 during a special event. But after the rowdy H2Oi car show made the decision to move its event to Atlantic City, New Jersey, for this year, all of a sudden the township's new Special Event Zone powers became a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. The question on everyone's mind has been how will the township use (or abuse) these new powers this tourist season. We are starting to get a glimpse of how Ocean City plans to rake in additional traffic fine revenue. Ocean City will use its new Special Event Zone powers this week, from May 15 to 20, for ALL of Ocean City. The declaration coincides with the annual Cruisin' Ocean City car show. On Coastal Highway, for example, the speed limit has been lowered for the duration of the car event. The township is promising that all signage has been temporarily changed to reflect the new speed limit, but that will be of little consolation for locals and repeat tourists who assume the speed limits are the same as they've always been. Fines have also been increased significantly for motorists who violate traffic laws anywhere in the city.
This show of force displays just why many were reticent to give the township these broad powers. While the new law allows Ocean City to temporarily adjust the speed limits and traffic fines to coincide with special events, the township has decided to place all of Ocean City under the special event zone, regardless of whether the car show participants are anywhere near. Cruisin's event organizers are warning visitors to expect strict enforcement of the town's speeding and traffic ordinances, especially for noise, reckless/negligent driving, spinning wheels, and alcohol-related driving offenses. Ocean City Police have even warned the event that they will be cracking down on people who even encourage others to break the city's traffic laws. Apparently, cheering on a burnout or drag race is now a crime as well. All of this has cast a shadow over Ocean City's future as a host for car shows and events, and how the police decide to use these powers will likely determine whether car shows come back to the town next year. That could pose a serious risk to local businesses that rely on these events to bring tourists in. Ocean City's annual Jeep Week alone brings 13,500 people to Ocean City every year. Last year, it was estimated that Ocean City's BikeFest brought 120,000 bikes (and their riders) into the town for the long weekend. As annoying as the bad actors from these events are, such a heavy-handed approach runs the risk of scaring away this much-needed economic stimulus, not to mention the risk of catching unaffiliated tourists and residents in the massive dragnet. It's one thing if police use these new powers to crack down on the bona fide bad actors, but if this new Special Event Zone law is used simply as a cash grab, there's no telling the damage it could do to the town.