Md. Senate passes ban on handheld cell phone use while driving
Drivers in Maryland would be required to use hands-free devices to talk on cell phones under legislation that narrowly passed the state Senate Wednesday morning.
The Senate voted 24 to 23 for a bill making it an offense for a driver to use one's hands to do anything but turn a phone on or off or to initiate or terminate a call while in motion.
The fine for first-time offenders is $40, but the bill classifies the offense as secondary, meaning a police officer can only cite a motorist after pulling him or her over for another violation. Police say such measures are very difficult to enforce.
Still, supporters of the bill said it would send an important message about the dangers of distracted driving. The legislation, which has yet to clear the House of Delegates, comes a year after the General Assembly made it a misdemeanor to write or send a text message on Maryland roads.
"You've heard the horror stories," said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), sponsor of the cell phone bill. "It's a matter of safety."
Six other states and the District prohibit the use of handheld phones by all drivers while operating a motor vehicle, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Opponents said the bill was too intrusive and ignored the realities of modern life, in which phones are used for far more than talking.
"Most of us who have teenage kids understand what a big impact this law will have," said Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's). "We need to educate our citizens, not turn them into lawbreakers."
He also predicted the bill would be "a blank check for law enforcement to pull law-abiding citizens over."
Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Montgomery) said she voted against the bill because it does not go far enough.
Kramer said recent studies have shown that using a hands-free cell phone while driving is no less distracting than talking on a hand-held phone. She said the legislature will be forcing citizens to buy useless hands-free devices.
"It will be us making them flush that money down the toilet," Kramer said.
March 24, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly , John Wagner
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