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Posted at 1:38 PM ET, 03/ 4/2011

Md. likely to stiffen ban on texting while driving

By Aaron C. Davis

 Maryland's Senate is expected to pass a bill Monday to tighten significantly its ban on texting while driving, making it illegal to glance at a hand-held device to read a message while behind the wheel and increasing the potential fine for the offense to $500.

 Current Maryland law says it's illegal to send a message while driving, but there is no prohibition against reading one. In debate that established the law two years ago, opponents had successfully argued that there was no rule against reading a piece of paper containing directions, a newspaper or even a novel while driving, so a ban on reading a potentially urgent text message was particularly onerous.

 State Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), who sponsored the bill pending for a final vote on Monday, said the measure would remove all ambiguity in the law.

 "Texting and driving don't go together. Period," he said, adding that the measure would also give police officers clearer and necessary latitude to pull over drivers they see using hand-held devices. In 2010, the existing law resulted in 280 citations, he said.

 But the bill has faced boisterous opposition, especially in the Senate, where opponents railed against it for over two and half hours in debate this week.

 Several Republican lawmakers said the bill would amount to the government "reaching inside the car" and legislating such a common, everyday activity that it would have the effect of undermining the meaning of other, more important state laws.

To make their point, Republicans proposed amendments banning the reading of newspapers, and said the next step would be Maryland banning "eating a Big Mac, fries and a coke" while driving.

"What's the difference? That's a distraction, too," said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard).

Sen. E. J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's) said there was no way police officers could distinguish whether a driver was using an iPhone to play music through a car stereo or using Google Maps to look up directions, two activities that would both remain legal under the bill.

Pipkin also warned that in addition to the burned-out "tail light and hanging license plate," the law would give police in the state, which have battled perceptions of racial profiling in some urban areas, near constant probable cause to make a traffic stop.

On the House floor, Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil) took another unsuccessful tack. He offered several hypothetical text messages that drivers could miss if the bill becomes law.
Among them: "Hey honey, I think the baby's coming. Turn around and come home."
Another: "I think somebody's trying to break into the house, daddy."
The House of Delegates passed the measure on Thursday by a vote of 116 to 22.
Last year, both the House and Senate passed bills expanding the state's ban on texting while driving to include reading messages. Differences in the bills were not worked out before adjournment, however.

More details of the legislation:

 "A driver is prohibited from using a text messaging device to write or send a text message while operating a motor vehicle in motion or in the travel portion of the roadway. A violator is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a maximum fine of $500. The prohibition does not apply to the use of a global positioning system or the use of a text messaging device to contact a 9-1-1 system. A violator is subject to an assessment of one point against the driving record. The prepayment penalty assessed by the District Court is $70, or $110 and three points if the violation contributes to an accident."

 The National Safety Council, an organization that focuses on workplace and highway safety, estimates that talking or texting on a cellphone is responsible for 1.6 million crashes in the United States a year, about 28 percent of all crashes.

More than 380 people have died from distracted driving crashes in Maryland in the last five years, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 30 states and the District of Columbia specifically prohibit driving while texting. Washington was the first state to enact such a law in May 2007. In addition to Maryland, 25 other states and the District of Columbia authorize primary enforcement of their text-messaging bans.

-- Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this post.

By Aaron C. Davis  | March 4, 2011; 1:38 PM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis, General Assembly, John Wagner  
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Comments

This is either a stupid idea or a money grab -- perhaps both. Why don't they ban reading of highway signs too, as those are a distraction too. Better yet, just ban driving, then no one will have an accident!

Posted by: braunt | March 4, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

It's a crying shame that people are going to tear this to shreds over the "what ifs" involved. It seriously boils down to what you are doing when you're reading a text. YOU... ARE... READING.

I once saw two people in a car bent over a map, and must have thought it was okay that they had the emergency flashers on. Oh, and since it was dark, they also had the dome light on.

Do irresponsible people really have to have that many accidents before they realize it really ISN'T okay to do whatever they want behind the wheel just because they want to and therefore it's okay?

Posted by: JustSaying1945 | March 4, 2011 2:04 PM | Report abuse

It's a crying shame that people are going to tear this to shreds over the "what ifs" involved. It seriously boils down to what you are doing when you're reading a text. YOU... ARE... READING.

I once saw two people in a car bent over a map, and must have thought it was okay that they had the emergency flashers on. Oh, and since it was dark, they also had the dome light on.

Do irresponsible people really have to have that many accidents before they realize it really ISN'T okay to do whatever they want behind the wheel just because they want to and therefore it's okay?

Posted by: JustSaying1945 | March 4, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Texting, whether reading or composing should carry the same fine as a DUI period. Putting on makeup, shaving and eating a big Mac should cost double the fine of a DUI. Other drivers should legally be able to throw rocks at anyone on their mobile phone.

I already throw pennies and nickles at anyone I see talking on their phones and causing those glorious cell phone incidents including: no turn signals while they use one hand and a leg to turn the wheel, driving 35 on a 55 mph highway, veering into my lane and coasting right thru stop signs and red lights. I follow the serious offenders home and slash all their tires and leave a note explaining why the vandalism was done.

Posted by: civilrightist | March 4, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

The biggest offenders of these laws are cops I see several every day violate this law

Posted by: agarnett1000 | March 4, 2011 3:14 PM | Report abuse

The biggest offenders of these laws are cops I see several every day violate this law

Posted by: agarnett1000 | March 4, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Why can't Maryland simply ban the use of these devices while operating a vehicle. Seriously, how many phone calls are that important that we can't pull off the road? All I see is a bunch of people who can't drive in the first place, trying to talk on the phone and look cool!

Posted by: Veritasamus | March 4, 2011 9:09 PM | Report abuse

This is just one more example of the Nanny State intruding into your lives. This is just going to get worse folks.

Darwin will take care of those that text and drive. It is not the states job.

Posted by: Pilot1 | March 5, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

I think legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I just read that 72% of teens text daily - many text more 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook - even with their professors. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away.

I decided to do something about distracted driving after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based, texting auto reply app for smartphones. It also silences call ringtones while driving unless you have a bluetooth enabled. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

Erik Wood, owner
OTTER LLC
OTTER app

Posted by: ErikWood | March 5, 2011 11:35 AM | Report abuse

This legislation has it's merits, but is far from perfect. It appears that all we do is continue to tiptoe around the problem when there are SOLUTIONS. For the "emergency" type text messages, a cell phone owner can have a virtual voice text translation application on their phone. For the new drivers there's TextZapper. TextZapper eliminates the ability to text,email ,web browse while driving. zapmytext.com

Posted by: lwenger63 | March 8, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

This legislation has it's merits, but is far from perfect. It appears that all we do is continue to tiptoe around the problem when there are SOLUTIONS. For the "emergency" type text messages, a cell phone owner can have a virtual voice text translation application on their phone. For the new drivers there's TextZapper. TextZapper eliminates the ability to text,email ,web browse while driving. zapmytext.com

Posted by: lwenger63 | March 8, 2011 1:31 PM | Report abuse

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