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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.

By John Wagner  |  March 24, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly , John Wagner  
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Comments

A cell phone is certainly less distracting in a car than small children, a lover or a lack of sleep.

Posted by: robinficker | March 24, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I've found talking on the phone has helped me from getting drowsy on the road. I use a blue tooth device and do get frustrated by some who can't walk and chew gum at the same time. But there are those who can. There are already laws on the books that cover a driver who is unable to pay attention to the road. It is called reckless driving. If the cause is a cell phone or something else that distracts the driver, cite the person for that. Why is it that government wants to regulate every aspect of our life?

Posted by: Verrazzano | March 24, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Eventually we have to take responisibilty for ourselves. The govt cannot legislate us into safety. Baed on the premise of this law, the government also has to ban: Talking, turning on the radi, changing the radio station, using a GPS, singing to the radio, talking to your children, rolloing your window up and down and many other things. All of these distract you when driving. Particularly small children. Are we going to ban small children from cars next? You will never be able to legislate away unsafe driving.

Posted by: happydad3 | March 24, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Note that it is just as distracting reading a map, turning around in the driver's seat to discipline a child, picking something off the floor on the passenger side of the auto, tuning the radio, reading a book, shaving or applying make-up while driving, and the list goes on. I do suspect this law will exempt the police from talking on their cell phones while driving. Stupid people will do stupid things. You cannot legislate common sense.

Posted by: OhBrother67 | March 24, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Note that it is just as distracting reading a map, turning around in the driver's seat to discipline a child, picking something off the floor on the passenger side of the auto, tuning the radio, reading a book, shaving or applying make-up while driving, and the list goes on. I do suspect this law will exempt the police from talking on their cell phones while driving. Stupid people will do stupid things. You cannot legislate common sense.

Posted by: OhBrother67 | March 24, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Note that it only applies while the vehicle is in motion, which does not apply to much of my commute. Of course, bluetooth in the car makes this bill moot for me.

I object to the exception for law enforcement personnel. Of all people, they need to take the most care while responding to incidents. They aren't magically better off with a phone in their hand.

Posted by: staticvars | March 24, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I wonder what the date is that this will go into effect? Anyone?

Posted by: jacquienina | March 24, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Most of Maryland's progressive peer states in the Mid-Atlantic--DC, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York--have already passed this law, it's about time this state did as well.

Posted by: TheMarylander | March 24, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't know what we would do without the Maryland Legislature.

Isn't there already a statute that requires full time and attention to driving a vehicle?

As they say, "no one is safe as long as the legislature is in Session!"

Wonder how much more mischief they can cause b efore they adjourn in two weeks.

Posted by: 15of18 | March 24, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Well, Robin.

It depends on what you're doing with the lover.

Posted by: BethesdaDog | March 24, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Ordinarily I'm against laws like this, because they're intrusive, they're redundant, and they imply a certain contempt for citizens on the part of legislators. But, in this case, I have to say I'm for it. True, reckless driving is already illegal, but by the time someone qualifies to be pulled over for reckless driving they've had the opportunity to cause serious harm. And studies do show that it's the mental distraction of holding a conversation, not the physical distraction of holding the phone, that is the real problem. However, until there's a law against driving like an idiot, I'll take what I can get.

Posted by: whorton1 | March 26, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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