Maryland road laws take effect Oct. 1

| 9/29/2009

Hundreds of new rules that Maryland lawmakers approved during this year’s regular session take effect Thursday, Oct. 1. The changes affecting travel through the state include adding speed cameras, banning texting while at the wheel, and enacting stricter rules on drunken driving.

One new rule allows speed cameras to be posted in construction zones. Cameras are authorized in works zones on expressways and controlled-access highways throughout the state where the speed limit is at least 45 mph. However, roads on the Eastern Shore are not affected. The enforcement tool also is authorized in school zones.

Currently, Montgomery County is the only place in the state where cameras are permitted. The enforcement tool can be used on streets in school zones or with speed limits of 35 mph or less.

As of Thursday, pictures can be snapped of vehicles traveling at least 12 mph in excess of the speed limit. For the first 30 days, violators of the new statewide law will get off with only a warning. After that, fines up to $40 will be handed out to the registered owners.

Local governments will have to decide whether they want to use the cameras. In addition to other localities, Baltimore County has signed on to install the cameras. Prince George County is reviewing a bill to do the same there.

Also taking effect this week is a ban on typing or sending text messages while driving. Offenders would face up to a $500 fine and one point on their driving record. Exceptions are made for emergencies.

Maryland law now prohibits drivers under 18 with a provisional license from using cell phones, except for emergencies.

There also are a handful of new laws increasing penalties on drunken drivers. Repeat offenders would lose their licenses for one year. Other changes make it illegal for people under 21 to consume alcohol and also criminalize providing alcohol to minors.

Another new road rule requires teens to wait three months longer to obtain provisional and regular driver’s licenses. Until now, teens could get a provisional license at 16 1/2. The license limits the hours they can drive and the number of passengers. Full driving privileges have been available at age 18.

Also of note is a new law mandating that Maryland reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 2006 levels by 2020.

One other new law establishes guidelines for early voting. Beginning with next year’s election, specified polls in each county will be allowed to open the second Friday before an election.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Maryland in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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