Maryland bill targets distracted driving

| Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that is intended to help curb "distracted driving" in the state.

Sen. Norman Stone, D-Baltimore, has offered a bill that would prohibit any action that distracts drivers from the road. Not only would the legislation ban drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones while at the wheel, but it would outlaw such actions as, reading, writing, grooming, interacting with animals or "any other activity that distracts the person's attention."

The distracted driving provision was included to address complaints that chatting on cell phones isn't the only activity that distracts from the task for driving, Stone told The Associated Press.

Violations of the rule would be a secondary offense - meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for engaging in a distracting activity. Violators would face up to $500 in fines and a one-point driver's license penalty. Emergency calls would be exempted.

The bill also would prevent people age 18 or older with learner's permits or school bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Maryland law now prohibits drivers younger than 18 with learner's permits from using any hand-held devices.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In 2008, California is slated to implement its own rule. Other states also are looking into implementing their own rules.

Stone's bill - SB30 - is in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The House version - HB174 - however, has been rejected by the House Environmental Matters Committee. A similar effort - HB86 - met the same fate in committee.

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