Last Updated: 05.04.2020

I was reading the newspaper the other day when a Harford County headline caught my eye:

Police in Harford targeting people who don’t wear seat belts

Most people probably don’t think much of a headline like that, but as a Harford County lawyer, it got me thinking about the implications of our seat belt laws and how they are applied through Maryland Criminal laws.

Primary offense v. Secondary offense

A primary offense under Maryland traffic laws is one for which you can be pulled over by a law enforcement officer (sheriff, police, trooper, etc).  A secondary offense is one that an officer can cite for, but not stop your car because of.  An example of this is texting & cell phone use while driving, under Md. Trans. 21-1124.1 & 1124.2, which says in part:

(e) Enforcement as secondary offense. — A police officer may enforce this section only as a secondary action when the police officer detains a driver for a suspected violation of another provision of the Code.

Seat belt violations

Seat belt violations, like the cell phone ban, was formerly a secondary offense.  See Md. Trans. 22-412 through 412.4.  About 20 years ago the law was changed to make it a primary offense and the floodgates opened for police, like those in Harford County.  Additional changes to the law in 2008 added that you must have your child in a proper child seat for their age/weight until they are practically old enough to drive themselves (OK, a bit exaggerated).  Both of these charges are only $25 fines. However, the traffic stops resulting from these checkpoints and emphasized enforcement has resulted in many Maryland Criminal cases in part with more serious violations of Maryland traffic laws such as a Maryland DUI. That is how a seat belt citation can directly lead to many nights in jail for Marylanders. With that in mind, take a look at this quote from The Aegis article linked above:

As of last week, troopers working in Harford County had stopped more than 800 vehicles for traffic offenses, including speeding, distracted driving and occupant protection/seat belt violations. The traffic stops resulted in the issuing of 266 seat belt citations and four child restraint citations. In addition, troopers had made 11 drinking and driving arrests and another 10 arrests where drivers were charged with drugged driving offenses, according to the state police press release….Additional operations will continue throughout the year, to include “High Visibility DUI Saturation Patrols” at the end of the month [May].

What is obvious is that like all police departments, Harford County is looking to “beef” up its numbers.  Make no mistake. These seat belt campaigns are nothing more than a grab at revenue and increased enforcement to create more Maryland Criminal cases.  While as a Maryland lawyer and Harford County lawyer love the business, I also somehow don’t think it’s quite fair.

My prediction

Soon, (within 3-5 years) I expect the ban on cellphones and text messaging to be amended by the Maryland General Assembly to become a primary offense just like seat belts. Shortly after that, you’ll see “cell phone patrols” roving Harford County, Howard County, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County. Don’t forget, the seat belt campaigns are not just limited to Harford County (see the May 24th “tweet” from the Baltimore Police Department).  If you find yourself pinched by a seat belt patrol and end up with some Maryland Criminal cases, more serious violations of Maryland traffic laws, like a Maryland DUI, or a night or two in jail, be sure to call your Harford County Maryland lawyer.