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Legislation would tighten Maryland's talking-while-driving law

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Photo - Texting While Driving At Night
Texting While Driving At Night
Local,Maryland,Transportation,Andy Brownfield

ANNAPOLIS - While texting and driving has been banned in Maryland for more than a year, a group of lawmakers want to allow police to pull over and cite motorists for any kind of cellphone use.

It is currently illegal to use a cellphone while behind the wheel in Maryland, but doing so is only a secondary offense. That means a law enforcement officer can issue a citation only if a driver is pulled over for some other reason and found to have been using a phone.

A bill by Del. James Malone Jr., D-Baltimore and Howard counties, would make it a primary offense, allowing police to pull over drivers they see using a cellphone in a moving vehicle.

"Last year, the General Assembly passed a texting bill to make it a primary offense, and personally I think we did it bass ackwards," Malone said, "because as long as a person can have the cellphone in their hand, they're going to try to do that quick text."

The bill would make it a moving violation to use a cellphone while driving to make calls, text, check email, use the Internet, do online banking or use any other phone function or app.

The bill allows an exception for headsets and other devices that allow phones to be used hands-free.

A cellphone use citation would result in one point on the violator's driver's license and a fine of up to $500. First offenders who appear in court can have the penalties waived if they offer proof that they have bought a hands-free device.

A 2011 National Safety Council study found that 23 percent of all traffic crashes involved cellphones.

In D.C., police can pull over drivers who are seen using cell phones without a hands-free device. Learner's permit holders and school bus drivers are forbidden from using cellphones at all. The bans are primary offenses.

In Virginia, texting while driving is banned but is only a secondary offense. Drivers younger than 18 and school bus drivers are forbidden from using cellphones, but all other motorists can use their phones without a hands-free device.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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