Legislators want lights turned on with wipers Md. Senate, House pass safety measures

February 22, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

State lawmakers want to make sure that rainy days have a bright side for motorists.

The House and the Senate passed virtually identical bills yesterday that would require motorists to turn on their headlights whenever they use their windshield wipers. Failure to do so could result in a $25 fine.

Violating the law would be a secondary offense, which means motorists would be charged only after being stopped for other violations, such as speeding. Fourteen other states have enacted similar measures.

"I take the position that if there is anything you can do to prevent an accident, especially something as easy as turning on your lights, it's foolish not to do it," said Del. Betty Workman, an Allegany County Democrat who was the lead sponsor of the House bill.

Workman said she has fought for four years to win approval for the measure, but the bill has struggled to make it out of committee because some legislators saw it as unnecessary.

This year, however, opposition was minimal and support was strong. Workman was backed by truckers' organizations, bus services and the American Automobile Association. "We feel that as far as safety matters are concerned, this is a good decision," said Sharon Perry, a spokeswoman for AAA Maryland. "Seeing other vehicles during inclement weather can be a problem."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has yet to weigh in on the issue, but with the strong support it has had in the legislature, the requirement is likely to become law.

Workman's bill, which would take effect Oct. 1, is in line with a growing trend of using headlights during the day -- rain or shine.

General Motors, Volvo, Saab and BMW are among the manufacturers making cars with lights that operate whenever the vehicle is running, said Bill Bronrott, a spokesman for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Bronrott said other manufacturers are considering following suit in the belief that the use of headlights can help prevent accidents even during the daytime.

The headlight requirement could cause a problem for drivers of older cars that don't have flashing lights, bells or voices that inform motorists their lights are on after the car has been parked.

Along with remembering to turn the headlights on, those drivers would have to remember to turn them off. Warranties sometimes don't include repairs for motorists whose batteries die because they left the headlights on.

"If a customer were to leave their lights and we were to know that, then the warranty wouldn't cover it," said James Parker, a manager of the Trak Auto store in Annapolis.

Perry said that shouldn't be a problem. AAA has not noticed a "drastic increase" in service calls because headlights are left on after use during stormy weather, she said.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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