Maryland bills intended to limit driver distractions

| 2/28/2008

Multiple measures under consideration in the Maryland statehouse would target motorists who use mobile devices to chat with others while behind the wheel.

Among the bills drawing debate is an effort by Delegate Jeffrey Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery. The measure – HB1110 – would 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 or a cell phone.

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

Offenders to the texting ban would face up to $250 fines. Exceptions would be made for emergencies. Of particular interest to truckers, the bill also would make 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.

Delegate Frank Turner offered another bill – HB380 – that also would prohibit use of mobile devices for texting. No exceptions are included in the measure. Violators would face $500 fines.

A bill in the Senate goes a step further in attempting to curb distracted driving. Sponsored by Sen. Michael Lenett, D-Montgomery, the measure – SB2 – includes the ban on text messaging while behind the wheel. It also would apply the ban to hand-held cell phones.

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

Violators of the restrictions included in the bill would face $100 fines. No points would be added to driver’s licenses, unless the violators are involved in wrecks attributed to the devices. Second and subsequent offenses would result in $250 fines.

Exceptions would be made for emergencies.

Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using texting devices while driving have picked up steam in recent months. Advocates for the ban cite a Nationwide Mutual Insurance survey that found one in five drivers texting while driving. That number nearly doubles for drivers aged 18 to 27.

If legislation is approved, Maryland would become only the third state – after New Jersey and Washington – to restrict all drivers from text messaging. Similar efforts are in the works in states that include Ohio, Delaware, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The Maryland bills are in committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Maryland in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor