Maryland bills die that were intended to limit driver distractions

| 4/18/2008

Multiple measures offered in the Maryland statehouse that have died targeted motorists who use mobile devices to chat with others while behind the wheel.

Among the bills that failed to gain passage was an effort by Delegate Jeffrey Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery. The measure – HB1110 – sought to make it illegal for people to operate a motor vehicle while writing, typing, viewing or sending text messages on a mobile telecommunications device, such as a BlackBerry.

Talking on cell phones would still have been permitted. Waldstreicher said “texting” is more dangerous than using a phone because it takes drivers’ eyes off the road.

Offenders to the texting ban would have faced up to $250 fines. Exceptions would have been made for emergencies. Of particular interest to truckers, the bill also made exceptions for Qualcomm-type devices.

Maryland law now prohibits drivers under 18 who hold learner’s permits or provisional licenses from talking on hand-held cell phones.

Waldstreicher’s bill was killed in committee.

Another bill that met the same fate also sought to prohibit use of mobile devices for texting. Sponsored by Delegate Frank Turner, D-Columbia, the measure – HB380 – did not include exceptions. Violators would have faced $500 fines.

One more attempt to curb driver distractions also met its demise in a House committee. The Senate previously approved it.

Sponsored by Sen. Michael Lenett, D-Montgomery, the measure – SB2 – included the ban on text messaging while behind the wheel. It also would have applied the ban to hand-held cell phones.

Talking on phones equipped with hands-free technology still would have been permitted.

Violators of the restrictions included in the bill would have faced $100 fines. No points would have been added to driver’s licenses, unless they are involved in wrecks attributed to the devices. Second and subsequent offenses would have resulted in $250 fines.

Exceptions would have been made for emergencies.

Despite the setback, Lenett said he was encouraged about the bill’s chances next year. He cited the fact that when the Senate passed the bill earlier in the session it marked the first time a cell phone ban cleared either chamber.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Maryland, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor