A new bill moving its way through the Maryland legislature would allow Ocean City to hike the fines for speeding and other traffic violations to $1,000.
Anyone who has visited Ocean City knows that it's a busy town. Beyond the tourists and locals, there are countless events throughout the summer season that bring thousands of additional visitors to the area.
Legislation is moving through the Maryland State House that will allow Ocean City to charge upwards of $1,000 for speeding tickets and traffic violations during town events. The bill has already unanimously passed the State Senate (48-0) and moves over to the House next.
The bill (SB 872) would essentially allow Ocean City to designate the entire town as a "special events zone." Just like speeding ticket fines are enhanced for violations in school and construction zones, Ocean City would be able to hike fees during the summer tourist season. Special events include vehicle shows, boat shows, or outdoor recreation shows, festivals, fairs, or carnivals, parades, circuses, concerts, block parties, and fireworks displays. On any given weekend in Ocean City, there's one of these going on.
In order for the special event zone to be in place, there would need to be at least 1,000 spectators attending an event. If you think about all of the events and gatherings that take place in Ocean City every year, such as Jeep Week, that's an easy threshold to meet.
The legislation is a very clear response to some of the struggles from last season. Most notably, Ocean City Police really struggled to maintain order during car events like Cruisin' and H2Oi last year, specifically with street races.
The bill was originally just going to grant the State Highway Administration the power to declare and set up special event zones, but a carve out was included to give Ocean City the power as well. And since the legislation passed the Senate as an emergency measure, if it ends up being signed into law, Ocean City would be able to have special event zones -- and the corresponding hiked fines -- set up in time for Memorial Day weekend.
While the measure will undoubtedly help local law enforcement, locals and frequent visitors worry it could have unintended consequences like hefty traffic fines. On top of that, hefty fines could discourage tourists from returning to Ocean City ever again. They also worry that locals and part-time residents could get caught in the dragnet by not realizing that special event zone rules are in effect.
There's also no guarantee that the town will be able to set up a special event zone in time for the worst-offending car events. Last year's H2Oi rally was supposed to be shut down after the town pulled the organizers' permits. Volkswagen and Audi owners decided to show up anyway and gather without the town's blessing. Even if the new special event zone law allows the township to get ahead of potentially troublesome events and rallies, they won't have enough forewarning if the event is unofficial and unsanctioned the way the 2017 H2Oi rally was. Ocean City Police are trying to reassure the public that they are monitoring social media to help plan for unofficial car rallies and events, but that isn't really a realistic answer.
Given the fact that the bill passed unanimously through the Senate, it will likely see similar support in the State House. If Governor Larry Hogan signs it into law -- and there's no reason to believe he won't -- it will be interesting to see how Ocean City uses their new authorities. Will they crack down on the street racers or will they use it as an excuse to increase the traffic fines for locals and tourists?
What do you think? Is it worth it to crack down on car rallies if it means everyone else could have to pay more? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!