Safety Tips

How To Prevent Identity Theft If Your Wallet Is Lost Or Stolen

Wallets are the keepers of some of our most important and sensitive information: our driver's license, credit cards and check cards, for instance. But what if your wallet is lost or stolen? Would you be prepared?

Pick-pockets, purse snatchers and other thieves who obtain financial and identification information have the potential to turn their victims' lives in disarray and cost them a lot of time and money. For instance, thieves can use their victim's information to obtain credit and make expensive purchases such as a cell phone plan or high-priced electronics. There are ways to prevent your prevent wallet and purse from falling into the wrong hands but it is also important to be prepared in the event your information is lost or stolen.

Here are some tips for safeguarding your information:

  • Know what you keep in your wallet. Make a front-and-back photocopy of each credit card, your health insurance card, your driver's license and anything else you store in your wallet. That way, you will know exactly what was lost and you will have the important account numbers and phone numbers for each item. Be sure to keep the copies in a safe place.
  • Once you discover a theft, report it immediately to the police.
  • Call all the companies that you have accounts with to notify them of the theft. There is not much a criminal can do with a canceled credit card.
  • Call the three national credit reporting agencies and the Social Security Administration and have them place a fraud alert on your name and social security number. By doing this, any company that checks your credit must contact you by phone so you can authorize the new credit. Those phone numbers are:

    Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
    Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
    Social Security Administration Fraud Line: 1-800-269-0271

If your wallet is stolen, you can report the theft to the CCSO by calling any of the three district stations:

La Plata: 301-932-2222
Indian Head: 301-743-2222
Waldorf: 301-932-7777

Travel Tips

Whether you are taking a summer vacation or attending business meeting out of town, the CCSO wants you to use these tips to help protect you, your family and your home during your trip:

When Leaving your Home Unoccupied
  • Leave a key and an alarm code with a trusted neighbor.
  • Use timers on lights, radios and/or televisions to give the appearance of someone coming and going.
  • Do not stop mail and newspaper service; have someone collect it for you.
  • Tell a trusted friend, neighbor or family member you are leaving and give them your emergency contact information.
When Traveling by Air
  • Do not pack prohibited items, such as pocket knives, lighters, etc. Visit the Transportation Security Administration's website at for the latest rules and regulations.
  • Place valuables in carry-on luggage.
  • Do not wrap gifts or other packages until you arrive at your destination.
  • Have a government-issued photo identification for each adult traveler.
When Traveling by Car
  • Have your vehicle serviced and checked by your mechanic to ensure it is in good working order prior to your trip.
  • Make sure your spare tire has air and is in good condition.
  • Put together an emergency road kit with tools, first-aid supplies, a flashlight, a fire extinguisher, road flares, blankets, water and snacks.
  • Have a current map and emergency roadside assistance numbers with you.
When Staying in a Hotel
  • Know and practice all emergency exits in your hotel. If you have children, take them with you so they will know the routes as well. Have a designated meeting point in case you are separated.
  • The safest floors of a hotel are on the third, fourth and fifth floors. They are high enough that burglars are generally unable to access them but low enough that occupants can get out safely in the event of a fire or evacuation.
  • Keep your doors locked and keep the chain or bar latched. Check the peephole before opening the door and check with the front desk before opening for any service people.
  • Do not leave valuables in your room. Put them in the safe provided by the hotel. If you use the hotel safe, get a signed receipt that lists all your items so you have a record if something becomes missing.

Please keep these tips in mind and have a safe journey.

Internet Safety Tips

The Internet and the personal computer are perhaps the most significant inventions of the 20th Century, offering unprecedented communication tools that link families and friends around the world. It provides users access to an incredible volume of information and is an invaluable tool of the academic and business world but it does not come without its dangers.

Internet users enjoy anonymity, something predators crave. A child does not always know with whom he or she is interacting, which is very dangerous.

Considering the number of kids online who participate in real time chat and how many use instant messaging (IM), the risks of children interacting with a predator is alarming. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 89 percent of sexual solicitations were made in either chat rooms or instant messages, and one-in-five youths (ages 10-17 years) has been sexually solicited online. It's easy to think of pedophiles as loitering in playgrounds and other places where children play, but because of the way the Internet works, children can easily be interacting on their home computers with predators posing as children.

The Charles County Sheriff's Office and the Maryland Sheriff's Association offer these safety tips to parents and children and urge parents to report any suspicious activities:

Tips for Children and Teens
  • Never give out personal information (such as name, age, address, phone number, school, town, password, schedule, your picture) or fill out questionnaires or any forms online. This includes chat rooms, instant messages, e-mail, surfing the Net and even entering contests or registering for clubs online.
  • Never meet in person with anyone you have met online without a parent or guardian.
  • Do not enter a chat room without a parent or guardian present or supervising. Some "kids" you meet in chat rooms may not really be kids; they may be adults with bad intentions. Remember, people may not be who they say they are.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who tries to turn you against your parents, teachers or friends.
  • Don't give out your password to anyone except your parents, not even to your friends. Follow your family's rules for online safety at home, at school, at the library or at a friend's or relative's house.
  • Do not engage in an online conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable. Log off and tell your parents. If you get an inappropriate message, DO NOT respond. Instead, show it to your parents and let them handle it.
  • Never respond to or send an e-mail or instant message to a stranger, or accept e-mails, enclosures, links, URLs or other things online from people you don't know. Talk to your parents first so they can check it out.
Tips for Adults
  • Place your computer in an area of your home where you can easily monitor you child's Internet activity.
  • Teach your children not to give out personal information to anyone they do not know in the physical world.
  • Teach them never to give out personal information while they are in a chat room with friends because there may also be others in the chat room whom they do not know.
  • Supervise your child's chat room activity and only allow your children in monitored chat rooms.
  • Block instant/personal messages from people you and your children don't know. (Check to see which IM services have this feature.)
  • Set time limits and monitor the amount of time your child spends on the Internet and at what times of day. Excessive time online, especially at night, may indicate a problem.
  • Regularly ask your kids about their online friends and activities.
  • Be present in the room so you can monitor the screen and your child's IM.
  • Do not permit your child to have an online profile, which serves as a lightening rod for predators. With this restriction, he or she will not be listed in directories and is less likely to be approached in chat rooms where pedophiles often search for prey.
  • Be aware that when anyone enters a chat room, their e-mail can end up on spammer's list. This means that participating in chat rooms can increase the likelihood that you will begin receiving unsolicited pornographic e-mail.
  • Consider investing in protective software. Ask your Internet service provider or local software retailer for suggestions or visit an Internet search engine and conduct a keyword search for "blocking and filtering software."
  • The following websites provide useful information to aid parents in educating themselves and their children in safe Internet practices:

    http://www.protectkids.com/
    http://www.safekids.com/
    http://www.missingkids.com/cybertip/
    http://www.getnetwise.org/.

Safety Tips For Women

A woman somewhere in America is raped every two minutes, according to statistics from the United States Department of Justice, and 77 percent of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, such as an acquaintance or relative.

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of such heinous acts is the feeling of inadequacy, helplessness and fear that drive many victims to never even report the crime. The FBI reports that only 37 percent of all rapes are reported to the authorities. This statistic not only points to a problem on a nationwide level but according to the Maryland Sheriffs' Association, it is a problem currently plaguing communities here in the State of Maryland.

The Journal of Forensic Sciences reports that of the 22 substances used in drug-facilitated rape, alcohol is the most common finding in investigations. Often, innocently joining someone for a couple of drinks could lead to what is most commonly known as date rape. Research has found that 90 percent of date rape occurrences take place when either the victim or attacker had been drinking.

So, how can women in the community take the preventative measures to keep from being victimized? A group of rapists were interviewed in a prison about what they look for in a potential victim. The following are facts women should consider:

The time of day men are most likely to attack and rape a woman is in the early morning between 5 and 8:30 a.m.

The number one place women are abducted from is grocery store parking lots. The second is parking lots/garages and the third is public restrooms.

There are a few details men look for in a potential victim. These include hairstyle (attackers are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun, braid or other long hairstyle that could easily be grabbed) and clothing (loose clothing is easy to remove quickly). Attackers also look for women who are on their cell phones, searching through their purse or doing other activities while walking because they are distracted and can be easily overpowered.

A woman who "puts up a fight" discourages the aggressor because the attempted rape becomes too time consuming. The men interviewed said they would not pick on a woman carrying an umbrella or any similar object that can be used in defense from a distance.

The following are a few defense mechanisms to keep in mind:

  • If someone is following behind you on a street, garage, elevator or stairwell, look the person straight in the face and ask them a question or make general small talk. Once you've looked them in the face and could identify them in a lineup, you lose appeal as a target.
  • If someone is coming toward you, hold out your hands in front of you and yell 'stop,' 'stay back' or 'I have pepper spray.' Most of the rapists indicated that they would leave a woman alone if she yelled or showed that she would not be afraid to fight back.
  • If someone grabs you, maybe you can't beat them with strength but you can outsmart them. If you are grabbed around the waist from behind, pinch the attacker either under the arm between the elbow and armpit or the upper inner thigh - hard.
  • When the attacker puts his hands up to you, grab his first two fingers and bend them as far back as possible. After the initial hit, always go for the groin.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings. Take someone with you if you can and don't dismiss any odd behavior. Trust your instincts.
  • The Charles County Sheriff's Office reminds citizens to notify the Sheriff's Office if they see a suspicious person. Officers will always respond to investigate the report.
  • If you are sexually assaulted, the Sheriff's Office encourages you to report the crime immediately. Officers will not only conduct an investigation but will also ensure you have access to victim services.

Unsure About Donating to a Charity?

Charles County has many generous, compassionate citizens who make charitable donations and there are many organizations in our county and throughout the United States that raise money to support important research and community programs.

Unfortunately, there are also fraudulent "charities" who want to take advantage of your goodwill. It is important, then, that we all do our research before we make a donation.

If you are solicited for charitable donations, please remember the following tips:

  • You do not have to give money to any organization you do not feel comfortable supporting. Do not give into pressure even when solicitors make highly emotional appeals.
  • Never provide your credit card or bank information over the telephone, especially when you did not originate the call.
  • Ask for printed information to review before making your decision.
  • Scammers generally will not provide you with a call-back number upon request.
  • If you are solicited in person, ask for identification from both the solicitor and the charity.
  • Know your charity. Ask questions about the organization's mission and how donations are used. You may want to know whether the donation supports local efforts or can be used nationwide.
  • Request proof that your contribution will be tax deductible.
  • Never make cash donations. Write a check to the organization and not to the person collecting the donation.
  • If you receive an unsolicited e-mail requesting a donation, do not respond. If you make a donation through an organization's Web site, check for "https" in its Web address to help determine if the site is secure.
  • In a time of crisis such as a natural or manmade disaster, be wary of scammers using it as an opportunity to make money.
  • Research the charity. A good place to start is at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. Their Web site, http://www.give.org/, lets you research particular charities.
  • Always trust your instincts.

If you believe you are the victim of a scam, contact the Sheriff's Office at 301-932-2222 in La Plata, 301-743-2222 in Indian Head or 301-932-7777 in Waldorf.

Jury Duty Scam

The Charles County Sheriff's Office and the Clerk of Court have warned the public of an identity theft scheme in which scammers make phone calls posing as a court employee to obtain personal information from their victims. The Clerk of Court does not initiate phone calls to citizens regarding jury service.

Scammers have contacted Charles County residents. One caller claiming to be a court employee told a Charles County woman that the woman had recently failed to appear for jury duty. The woman, who had not received a jury duty summons, verified her social security number with caller but became suspicious of the call and notified the court. The Charles County Sheriff's Office launched an investigation.

In similar scams outside of Charles County, callers had reportedly posed as police officers or court employees and said the victim had been issued a warrant for failing to appear for jury duty. They asked their alarmed victims to verify personal information so that the issue could be resolved over the phone.

The court relays information about jury duty through mailed correspondence, not via telephone. If a warrant is issued for someone who fails to appear for jury duty, the Charles County Sheriff's Office will not call that person to inform them of the warrant.

The Sheriff's Office wants to know if someone becomes a target of the scam. Call the Sheriff's Office at 301-932-2222 in La Plata, 301-743-2222 in Indian Head or 301-932-7777 in Waldorf and be sure to retain any caller identification records.

Additionally, the Sheriff's Office reminds citizens they should not provide any personal information via the telephone when they have not initiated the call themselves.

Halloween Safety Tips

For Trick-or-Treaters

  • Young children should always trick-or-treat with an adult and older children should never trick-or-treat alone.
  • Be careful crossing the streets; cross at the corner and look both ways.
  • Stay to the side of the street or, where possible, on a sidewalk.
  • Only visit homes you know.
  • Do not eat candy that has not been inspected by a trusted adult or any homemade treats or unpackaged foods like fruit.
  • Never cut across yards or use alleys as short cuts.
  • Never accept food or drink from strangers.
  • Never enter a stranger’s home or car.
  • Only visit well-lit homes.
  • Carry a flashlight.
  • Make sure your costume has something reflective on it so you’re visible to passing motorists; that it is short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement and contact with flames; and that it is flame resistant. Remember to “Stop, Drop and Roll” if your costume catches fire.
  • Carry with you your emergency contact information.
  • Obey traffic signals.
  • Do not trick-or-treat past 8 p.m.

When Giving Candy

  • Offer only wrapped or packaged candy.
  • Never give homemade treats. Not only are the ingredients not listed - a threat to children with food allergies - but parents are encouraged to discard them. Parents are also encouraged to discard any unpackaged foods - even fruit - so refrain from offering these.
  • Remember that children are going to get A LOT of candy. Don’t forget other possible gifts like crazy pencils, one-serving cereal boxes, stickers - and toothpaste!
  • Keep your lights on if you’re participating in the festivities and be sure to clear a safe path for trick-or-treaters. Remove items such as hoses and wet leaves to prevent falling and injury.

When Inspecting candy

  • Use your best judgment. Do not let children eat any homemade treats or unpackaged foods.
  • Make sure candy is tightly wrapped. If it looks like it was unwrapped and then re-wrapped, don’t let your children eat it.
  • Use caution but not paranoia.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.
  • If you believe your candy has been tampered with, call the Sheriff’s Office.

For Motorists

  • Be cognizant of trick-or-treaters, pedestrians and pets as you drive through residential areas.
  • Stop at all crosswalks.
  • Remember, the posted speed limit is 25 mph through most residential areas, but that doesn’t mean you must drive that fast. Slow down, especially in areas with high pedestrian traffic.
  • As always, don’t drink and drive.

When inspecting candy, remember that some occurrences that raise questions about the quality of confectionary products are in fact normal, according to the National Confectioners Association. For example, what appears to be glass may just be large sugar or salt crystals and graying chocolate that resembles a light powder may be caused by exposure to heat or dampness. Such appearances should not be cause for concern but parents are urged to use their discretion. The association publishes a complete list of these occurrences in its Variations in Candy guide on its website.

Finally, the Sheriff’s Office urges citizens to report suspicious activity, suspicious candy or any other unsafe situations by contacting the District Stations at 301-932-2222 in La Plata, 301-743-2222 in Indian Head or 301-932-7777 in Waldorf. In an emergency, dial 911.

Holiday Season Safety Tips

Criminals are always looking for opportunities to strike but never more so than during the holiday season, when merchandise and money are moving fast and people are preoccupied by crowds and festivities. Each year, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office operates under a Holiday Safety Plan between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to combat crime and help keep citizens safe.

Increasing police presence during the busy evening shopping hours is the core of the CCSO’s holiday public safety strategy. Some officers operate covertly in plain clothes and unmarked cars in an attempt to identify possible robbery suspects but the plan primarily increases the number of uniformed officers patrolling neighborhoods and shopping centers in marked patrol cars and on foot.

In addition to increasing patrols, other special operations help the CCSO promote holiday safety. High school students in the Criminal Justice Program and members of Explorers Post 1658 participate in Detect and Deter, during which the uniformed students canvass the parking lots of malls and shopping centers and notify owners of vehicles that could potentially be targeted by thieves because shopping bags, gifts, cell phones and other valuables are in plain view.

The CCSO also participates in public awareness campaigns that emphasize to citizens the importance of taking personal safety precautions and reporting suspicious activity. The CCSO strongly encourages citizens to remember the See Something Say Something rule: Whenever you see suspicious activity, call police immediately and an officer will respond to investigate.

Finally, the CCSO is offering important safety tips and asking citizens to remember these tips this holiday season and share them with family and friends:

When Shopping:

  • Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Park in a well-lighted space and be sure to lock the car and close the windows.
  • Hide shopping bags, gifts and other valuables in the trunk.
  • Don’t overburden yourself with packages. Make several trips to the car if necessary.
  • Keep purses close to your body and keep wallets in a front pants pocket.
  • Never carry large amounts of cash or count cash where others can see you.
  • Make sure any children you may be shopping with know to go to a store clerk or security guard if you are separated.

When Traveling:

  • Get an automatic timer for your lights.
  • Have mail and newspaper delivery stopped so it won’t pile up.
  • Have a trusted friend or neighbor keep an eye on your house, shovel snow and park in your driveway from time to time.

At Home:

  • When placing the garbage out for pickup, conceal boxes that contained expensive items - otherwise, you could be advertising what you have for burglars.
  • If you answer the door for a stranger who is seeking charitable donations, ask for the person’s identification and how the funds will be used. If you are not satisfied, you are not obligated to give. Learn more about charitable organizations from the Better Business Bureau’s Web site, www.give.org. Don’t fee obligated to answer the door if doing so makes you uncomfortable.
  • Take the opportunity to create or update your home inventory. Take photos or make videos of items, including descriptions and serial numbers.

Vehicle Safety:

  • Always keep windows up and doors locked, even at home.
  • Don’t leave your vehicle running to let it warm up. Vehicle thieves see this as an easy opportunity to steal a vehicle. It’s also against the law to leave a vehicle unattended while its engine is running and the key is in the ignition.

For Businesses:

  • Remind employees to alert staff and security of unusual behaviors.
  • Start and participate in a “Business Watch” program.
  • Watch for people hanging around before or after closing time.
  • Ensure employees are seen and can see at all times.
  • Keep window decorations below waist height and/or above head height.
  • Control the height of shelving units and displays.
  • Improve the lighting in shadowed areas.
  • Keep minimal cash on hand at each register.
  • Make frequent pickup/money drops during the busiest hours.
  • Place all money in a safe or locked storage cabinet until you are ready to count it out.
  • Never count cash in front of others.
  • Never make a bank drop after dark.
  • Alternate times and routes to the bank.
  • Don’t carry a bank bag in the open - conceal it in a shopping or grocery bag.
  • Take someone with you to the bank.
  • Be sure all your surveillance equipment is always functioning properly because, in the event a robbery or other crime occurs, video provides crucial evidence. Also, be sure your tapes are changed daily and that they are replaced every 30 days. It would also help to place height markers on all doors.

School Bus Safety

The Charles County Sheriff's Office is committed to keeping the roads safe for children traveling to and from school. Motorists should obey following laws when traveling in school zones and near bus stops:

  • Obey posted speed limits. In most school zones and neighborhoods, the speed limit is 25 mph.
  • When a school bus has stopped and its red lights are flashing, all traffic behind it and all traffic traveling in the opposite direction on a two-way street not divided by a median is required to stop and keep a safe distance - at least 20 feet - between the vehicle and the school bus. Only traffic traveling in the opposite direction on a highway divided by a median is not required to stop.

To report a vehicle violating these laws, call the Sheriff's Office at 301-932-2222 in La Plata, 301-743-2222 in Indian Head or 301-932-7777 in Waldorf.

Automobile Safety Tips

When your car breaks down it's not only an inconvenience, it can be dangerous. The Charles County Sheriff's Office offers the following safety tips to remember if your vehicle becomes disabled:

  • Put on your emergency flashers immediately.
  • Pull onto the right shoulder if possible. If you're in the far left lane, you may need to stop on the left shoulder if there is one.
  • Exit your vehicle from a door that faces away from traffic.
  • Raise the hood and leave it open - this is the universal sign for a stranded motorist. Other ways to signify your vehicle is disabled is to tie a cloth to your antenna or door handle or place a "Send Help" sign in your window.
  • Contact the Charles County Sheriff's Office or the local law enforcement agency.
  • Remain in your vehicle and keep your doors locked. If someone you don't know stops to help you, crack your window and ask them to call the police for help. The Sheriff's Office recommends you stay with your vehicle but if you decide to leave your vehicle, write down your name, the date and time and where you are headed and leave it on your dash.
  • The Sheriff's Office does not recommend that you accept rides from strangers but if you choose to do so, write down the information listed in the above tip as well as a description of the vehicle you are leaving in including its make, model and tag number and the name of the person you are riding with and his or her physical description.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle that contains tools, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, road flares, blankets and water.

Maryland's Seatbelt Law

Maryland's seatbelt law applies to the following types of motor vehicles registered in Maryland:

  • Class A (passenger)
  • Class E (truck)
  • Class F (truck tractor)
  • Class M (multipurpose)
  • Class P (passenger bus)

It also applies to similar types of vehicles registered in other states and to all vehicles that are required to be equipped with seatbelts under federal motor vehicle safety standards.

Exempt from the requirements of this law are those who have a written certificate from a doctor stating a medical reason for not using their seatbelt and drivers and passengers of Class L (historical) motor vehicles.

Seatbelt use is mandatory all drivers, all passengers under the age of 16 and all passengers over the age of 16 who are seated in outboard front seats, or front seats next to a door.

Furthermore, effective by law June 1, 2008, Maryland's child safety seat law requires that children up to age 8 must ride in a federally-approved child safety seat unless the child is taller than 4 feet 9 inches or weighs more than 65 pounds. Click here to learn more about Maryland's Child Passenger Law.

Drivers are responsible for themselves and all passengers under the age of 16. Drivers who are not wearing seatbelts are subject to a $25 fine. If they are transporting a child under the age of 16 who is unrestrained or improperly restrained, the driver will be subject to a $50 fine for each child who is in violation of the law.

A driver who is not wearing a seatbelt is subject to a $50. Drivers who are transporting passengers under the age of 16 who are unrestrained or improperly restrained will receive a $50 fine. A front outboard passenger over the age of 16 who is not wearing a seatbelt will be subject to a $25 fine; the driver will not be held accountable for that passenger.

Violating the Maryland's seatbelt law is a primary offense, meaning police may stop a vehicle and issue the appropriate citations even when the driver has committed no other infractions.

Additionally, seatbelts should be worn correctly and not behind your back or under your arm.

Maryland's Child Passenger Law

Effective by law June 1, 2008, Maryland's child safety seat law requires that children up to age 8 must ride in a federally-approved child safety seat unless the child is taller than 4 feet 9 inches or weighs more than 65 pounds.

Child safety seats include infant seats, convertible seats, forward-facing seats, booster seats or other safety devices federally-approved for use by children in motor vehicles. The safety seat must be appropriate for the child's age and weight.

To accommodate children of different sizes and ages, not all safety seats are designed alike. The American Academy of Pediatrics and child seat manufactures recommend that children remain in rear-facing seats until they reach the seat's weight limit -- usually between 30 and 35 pounds.

Children older than one year and who are between 40 and 65pounds should use forward-facing safety seats.

A person may not transport a child younger than 16 years of age unless the child is appropriately secured in a child safety seat or a seat belt. Doing will result in a citation and offenders will be subject to a $50 fine.

Please remember it is very important that all children be properly secured in your vehicle. Children in booster seats must also wear their seatbelts properly.

The safest location in a car to buckle-up a child is in the middle of the rear seat.

The Sheriff's Office offers free child safety seat inspections and installations. For more information, CLICK HERE.

ATVs, Pocket Bikes, Golf Carts, Oh My!

A pocket bike, all-terrain vehicle or golf cart might seem like a fun and convenient way to get around town or around the streets of your neighborhood but by law, many of these and similar modes of transportation can only be operated on your own property.

The following is information regarding what vehicles can and cannot be driven on roadways:

  • Maryland vehicle law defines motor vehicles as being self-propelled or propelled by electric power obtained from overhead electrical wires and which are not operated on rails. Under this definition, mopeds and motor scooters are not considered motor vehicles. ATVs, motorized skate boards, motorized bicycles, motorized mini-bikes, go-carts and golf carts are considered motor vehicles by law but they cannot be registered.
  • Any vehicle that is not registered in the state of Maryland may not be driven on Maryland highways. Maryland vehicle law defines highways as the entire width between the boundary lines of any way or thoroughfare of which any part is used by the public for vehicular travel, whether or not the way or thoroughfare has been dedicated to the public and accepted by any proper authority. This means ATVs, motorized skate boards, motorized bicycles, motorized mini-bikes, go-carts and golf carts can only be driven on private property with the permission of the owner or agent.

Mopeds and Motor Scooters

A moped is a bicycle that is designed to be operated by human power with the assistance of a motor and is equipped with pedals that mechanically drive the rear wheel or wheels. A moped is a bicycle that is designed to be operated by human power with the assistance of a motor and is equipped with pedals that mechanically drive the rear wheel or wheels. Mopeds have two or three wheels that are all more than 14 inches in diameter and have a motor with a rating of 1.5 brake horsepower or less. If the motor is a combustion engine, mopeds have a capacity of 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement or less.

Motor scooters are non-pedal vehicles that have a seat for the operator, have two wheels, one of which is 10 inches or more in diameter, and have a step-through chassis. Motor scooters have a motor with a rating of 2.7 brake horsepower or less, or if the motor is an internal combustion engine, with a capacity of 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement or less. Motor scooters are equipped with an automatic transmission. Motor scooters do not include vehicles that have been manufactured for off-road use, such as motorcycles and ATVs. Motor scooters are generally found at motorcycle shops and usually cost at least $1,500. If they are 50 CCs or less, they do not require tags. The driver must have a valid driver's license of any class from any state or country in which they reside or have a moped operators permit issued by the Maryland MVA.

Any person operating a bicycle, including a moped, or motor scooter should ride as close to the right side of the roadway as practical and safe, except when attempting to make a left turn, operating on a one-way street or passing a stopped or slower vehicle. Two people can ride side-by-side when it does not impede the flow of traffic. The law also states operators may walk the bicycle or motor scooter on the right side of a highway if there is no sidewalk. These vehicles cannot be operated on a roadway with a speed limit of more than 50 miles per hour and cannot be operated in excess of 30 miles per hour. All riders must wear a helmet.

Gas or Electric Motorized Toy Scooters

Whether they are gas or electric, motorized toy scooters - often called "pocket bikes" - are self-propelled and therefore meet the Maryland vehicle law's definition of a motor vehicle. They cannot be operated on a sidewalk. Because these vehicles do not have a wheel that is 10 inches or more in diameter or a step-through chassis and because they are self-propelled, they are considered motor vehicles. But just as an ATV, go-cart, golf cart and dirt bike motorcycle, they cannot be registered and are for use on private property only, with the permission of the property owner or agent.

Electronic Personal Assistive Mobility Devices

Electronic personal assistive mobility devices (EPAMDs) are self-balancing, pedestrian devices that have two wheels that are not in tandem. They may be operated on sidewalks and on roadways with speed limits that do not exceed 30 miles per hour and that do not have an adjacent sidewalk.

Driving on Sidewalks

Driving on sidewalks is prohibited unless the sidewalk is a permanent or authorized temporary driveway. Where permitted, unicycles, bicycles - not including mopeds - and play vehicles may be ridden on a sidewalk or sidewalk area. Play vehicles are defined as vehicles that have two or three wheels, are propelled only by human power and are not bicycles. Also, unless prohibited by a local ordinance, an individual with a disability may use a special vehicle on sidewalks or sidewalk areas.

Anyone who violates these laws will be subject to the following applicable citations:

  • Driving an unregistered vehicle on a highway, a $280 fine.
  • Driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a highway without the required license and authorization, which requires an appearance in court
  • Operating a moped or motor scooter without the required license or permit, also a must-appear offense
  • Causing a child or ward under age 15 to drive a motor vehicle on a highway, a $290 fine
  • Knowingly permitting a child or ward under 15 to drive a motor vehicle on a highway, a $290 fine
  • Driving a vehicle on a sidewalk and sidewalk area where prohibited, a $70 fine
  • Parent or Guardian authorizing a minor or ward to violate bicycle, play vehicle or motor scooter laws, a $40 fine
  • Parent or Guarding knowingly permitting a minor or ward to violate bicycle, play vehicle or motor scooter laws, a $40 fine
  • Riding a bicycle or motor scooter on a roadway with a maximum posted speed above 50 miles per hour, expressway or controlled access highway, a $40 fine
  • Riding a bicycle or motor scooter on a roadway where a smooth bike lane or shoulder is available, a $80 fine

To report someone operating a vehicle illegally, contact the Charles County Sheriff's Office at 301-932-2222 in La Plata, 301-743-2222 in Indian Head and 301-932-7777 in Waldorf.

Tips for Cyclists and Motorists

Motorists use Charles County roadways as a way of getting to-and-fro or for a relaxing drive but these roads make for an invigorating ride for bicycle enthusiasts, too. To each of these groups of movers-about, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office is issuing this important reminder: Share the Road.

The Sheriff’s Office, Bike Doctor and the Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club are offering tips to help motorists and bicyclists enjoy a safe ride on Charles County roads.

Maryland law recognizes a bicycle as a vehicle, giving bicyclists all the same rights and responsibilities as a person driving an automobile. That means bicyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic and obey all traffic signals and signs.

Bicyclists are required to ride on paved shoulders, where they exist, or as far right in the lane as practical and safe. In some instances, it is not feasible for a bicycle to stay to the right in a lane, including when:

  • The bicycle is overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction
  • The cyclist is preparing for a left turn
  • The cyclist encounters unsafe road conditions such as fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, potholes, debris or glass
  • The lane is too narrow to be safely shared by a bicycle and another vehicle

In these situations, a bicycle may travel in the lane without being required to stay to the right. Here are some other tips for motorists to remember when they encounter bicyclists:

  • Motorists should merge with bicycle traffic when preparing for a right turn.
  • Avoid turning right directly across the path of bicycle traffic. Experienced cyclists often ride 25-30 mph and may be closer than you think.
  • Bicyclists changing lanes to make a left turn are required to follow the same path as any other vehicle traveling in the same direction, so be cautious.
  • When turning left at an intersection, yield to oncoming bicyclists just as you would yield to oncoming motorists.
  • Do not honk your horn when approaching bicyclists. Although it is considerate to want to warn them of your approach, the noise could startle the bicyclist, causing an accident.
  • Look for bicyclists before opening your car door when you stop on a street.
  • In inclement weather, give cyclists extra tailing and passing room, just as you would for other motorists.
  • Safe passing of bicycles requires special consideration:
  • Aerodynamic effects from winds off large vehicles can cause a bicycle to be suddenly pulled toward the larger vehicle by two or three feet, depending on the relative speed between the two vehicles.
  • Always allow at least three feet to the left of the bicycle when you are passing.
  • Do not attempt to share the lane with the bicycle when passing. Reduce your speed and move in to the next or opposite lane when passing. If there is oncoming traffic, continue to slow and follow the bicycle until the traffic clears.
  • Expect the unexpected when a child is riding the bicycle because children’s actions when they are on bicycles are often unpredictable. A common cause of accidents involving children on bicycles occurs when the young riders enter the roadway from a driveway, alley or curb without slowing, stopping or looking for traffic.
  • Look both ways at intersections before turning. Bicycles may be found riding incorrectly facing traffic and create special hazards at intersections. Even though the bicyclist is not obeying the law, you can prevent an accident by being vigilant.

Some of the crashes involving bicycles occur when motorists overlook or misjudge the speed of oncoming bicycle traffic. When turning right, motorists should slow and merge with the bicycle traffic. Motorists who failed to yield the right-of-way at a stop sign to a bicyclist also commonly cause collisions.

The Charles County Sheriff’s Office receives few reports of problems between bicycles and motorists, and few collisions have occurred.

For more information on bicycle safety, visit Bike Doctor or log on to www.ohbike.org. For questions about traffic laws about this issue, contact the Sheriff’s Office’s Traffic Operations Unit at 301-932-3062.

Why Maintaining Your Surveillance Video System Is Very Important

The Charles County Sheriff’s Office has an important reminder to the businesses of our community: Quality video surveillance equipment that is properly installed and used can provide critical evidence if your business becomes the victim of a crime.

Poorly used or installed video surveillance systems dramatically limit the ability to recover crucial evidence during the investigation of a variety of incidents that may occur at business locations. Although many businesses have installed security video systems, if the systems are not properly used, the videos yield very little useful information.

Officers rely on video evidence to aid them during the investigation into a wide variety of crimes, ranging from shoplifting to armed robbery and other violent crimes. Many times, the images captured on these video tapes are the only thing investigators have as evidence.

To ensure security systems capture the best possible evidence, the Sheriff’s Office is providing the following checklist as a guide for businesses to set up or enhance their systems:

  • Frequently replace your video tapes to ensure images are clear
  • Have at least one camera aimed at the entrance/exit doors
  • Capture images of customers throughout your business
  • Capture everyone as they approach the sales counter/point of sales area
  • Locate your cameras at eye-level to capture a straight-on image (6 feet from the floor)
  • Update your system if it is more than 10 years old
  • If possible, update to a digital video system
  • Train your staff and make your system easily accessible by your managers
  • Have your managers check the system weekly for proper operation

Businesses that have security departments should have security personnel evaluate the security system and security procedures at least once a year, as well as make updates to the system when necessary. The Sheriff’s Office encourages security departments and management staff to coordinate with investigators and crime prevention officers, who will aid businesses in setting up the best video surveillance systems possible.

Unfortunately, even the best video surveillance system won't protect businesses from all crime. However, a clear video depiction of a crime will provide the investigators with their best opportunity to solve the case.

Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit offers free commercial security surveys to businesses. Officers who conduct the surveys provide advice about lighting, landscaping and other important factors that can aid a business’s own crime prevention efforts.

For questions, concerns or assistance, contact the Crime Prevention Unit at 301-932-3080 or the Criminal Investigations Division at 301-609-6496.