Maryland warns distracted drivers
Press conference with state officials launching law
[This post has been updated]
During my online chat Monday, a traveler asked a question about the new cellphone law that will take effect Friday in Maryland.
Q. I drive from D.C. to Laurel/Columbia every day. I have no problem with the new hands-free law in Maryland but I am wondering why there are no signs along the highways alerting motorists. If this is really a safety campaign and not a way to generate revenue, why is the state not posting signs? Remember "click it or ticket?" There were signs and commercials with law enforcement officers. Is it legal for states (or cities, in the case of D.C.) to create a new driving law without posting signs?
DG: Here's an update. The photo shows the warning sign that Maryland transportation and safety officials unveiled this afternoon at the Laurel welcome center on northbound Interstate 95. Several dozen of the signs will be on display along highways at the state's borders starting Friday. Also, drivers will see warnings about the new law on the highways' variable message signs.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley had another way of stating the message: "Put down the phone and just drive."
The new law, passed during the 2010 session of the Maryland General Assembly and signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, prohibits drivers from using a cell phone without a hands-free device while the vehicle is in motion on a street or highway. Drivers under 18 already are prohibited from using cell phones of any kind.
A first offense carries a $40 fine, with $100 fines for further offenses. No points are assessed against the driver's license for a first offense, unless it contributes to a crash, in which case three points are assessed. Another violation would lead to a one-point assessment, plus the fine.
There are these exceptions to the law: Phones can be used to call 911 or other emergency services. Emergency personnel and law enforcement officers are exempt. A driver is allowed to use hands in turning a phone on or off, or in initiating and ending a call.
This is a secondary offense. An officer can't stop a driver just for using the cell phone inappropriately. The officer would first have to stop the driver for a primary offense, such as speeding or negligent driving. Then further violations, including cell phone use, could be assessed.
The warning sign takes a double shot at distracted driving by also noting that it's illegal to text while driving in Maryland. That law has been in effect for a year. It prohibits drivers from writing or sending text messages while the vehicle is in motion, or in a travel lane. There's a fine of up to $500 for this primary offense. The exceptions here are for texting 911, or for using a GPS navigation system.
"Motorists today are operating at a much faster pace -- and I'm not talking about speeding," said Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, whose troopers will be helping enforce the new law. He acknowledged it's difficult for law enforcement to discover violations of this type, and said he hoped that the law and the surrounding publicity about the dangers of distracted driving would help modify motorists' behavior.
Maryland joins seven other states and the District in adopting a hands-free law. Others include Maryland neighbor Delaware, but not Virginia or Pennsylvania.
We talk so much about cell phones and texting when we talk about distracted driving. It's worth noting that distractions take many forms. Among those that Maryland officials name are: Checking PDAs, personal grooming, eating and drinking, adjusting the audio system, changing clothes, talking with passengers, adjusting the vehicle controls and browsing the Internet.
| October 1, 2010; 11:40 AM ET
Categories: Driving, Highways, Maryland, Traffic Safety | Tags: Dr. Gridlock
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