Last updated: June 18, 2014
Maryland distracted driving update: Legislation that would allow felony prosecution of drivers who kill while distracted has been signed into law. The Senate and House sent “Jake’s Law” to the governor April 7. He signed it a week later. The family of a boy killed by a distracted driver pushed hard for enactment.
Five-year-old Jake Owen died in late 2011 after a driver distracted by a cell phone hit his family’s car. “There’s a hole in the law,” Delegate Luke Clippinger told the House Judiciary Committee considering his House Bill 1212 in late February.
Penalties for killing or causing serious injury under the new law include a year in prison and $5,000 fines. State Sen. Roger Manno termed it “emergency legislation.”
A get-tough law that upgraded enforcement of the state’s existing handheld cell phone law to primary status is now in effect. Distracted drivers also are subject to significant increases in fines for distracted driving violations.
First offenses now bring a $75 fine. A second offense could bring a ticket of up to $125, and a third to $175. (The old fine for violations range from $40 to $100.) The removal of the secondary enforcement provision of the handheld cell phone law means police can stop and cite violators for that reason alone. The legislature did water down the penalties in the 2013 bill. The changes went into effect Oct. 1.
Current distracted driving prohibitions:
- Text messaging prohibited for all drivers.
- Handheld cell phone use banned for all drivers. Fines between $75 and $175.
- Drivers under the age of 18 prohibited from any use of cell phones.
Read the Maryland statutes (PDFs): Text messaging | Handheld cell phones | Under 18
Distracted driving legislation (2014):
House Bill 1212: Would create new offense of causing death or serious harm by text messaging while driving. Fine up to $5,000 and a year’s imprisonment (as amended, original bill called for three years). 12 points vs. license. aka Jake’s Law. Amended and approved by the Judiciary Committee on March 13. Approved by the House in a 111-25 vote of March 14. Amended and approved by the Senate in unanimous vote of March 26. To conference committee. Approved by both houses April 7. Signed by the governor April 14. (Clippinger)
Senate Bill 348: Would set penalties for drivers who text message and cause serious injuries or deaths. Fines: Up to $5,000 and up to three years in prison. Similar to HB 1212, above. Approved by Judicial Proceedings in mid-March. Amended and approved by the full Senate in a 46-0 vote of March 20. (Manno)
SB 214: Would direct up to $250,000 of revenues from texting & driving tickets (25 percent) to distracted driving education via the University of Maryland. (Jennings)
Distracted driving news & notes (2014):
In the first six months of Maryland’s primary enforcement of distracted driving laws, almost 15,000 tickets were written, the state District Court says. The number of citations more than tripled when compared with a similar period before the toughened law went into effect in October 2013.
Delegate Luke Clippinger is a neighbor of the family who lost their 5-year-old to a distracted driver. His Jake’s Law would toughen existing penalties. His parents, of Federal Hill, worked with Clippinger on HB 1212. “If you’re in your car and … you’re paying no attention to what’s going on around you because you’ve got the time to text or Facebook, and you take somebody’s life or cause bodily harm, there should be a criminal penalty,” Clippinger says.
During debate on Jake’s Law, one lawmaker said texting & driving was more dangerous to teens than drunken driving. “It’s a cultural norm that we have to change. This is the right direction,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City.
The ACLU has filed testimony in opposition to House Bill 1212 because of its clause that would require drivers in serious accidents to provide police with their phone numbers, service provider identity and email accounts. The ACLU said the bill was “on shaky ground” constitutionally. Clippinger told lawmakers said the phone-information demand was along the lines of blood tests for drunken-driving suspects. “You could argue a blood test is far more invasive than, ‘What’s your phone number?'” The wording was later removed by amendment.
2013 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 753: Repeals secondary enforcement of Maryland distracted driving laws; states that bans on handheld electronic communications devices apply to any use on “the travel portion of the roadway,” not just while vehicle is in motion. Fines (after amendments): $75 (first offenses), then $125, then $175. (In the original bill, up to $500 and possible points.) Same as HB 104 of 2012. Approved by the House in a 106-29 vote taken March 21. Amended and approved April 1 by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Approved by the Senate in a 41-6 vote April 3. To conference committee. New version approved by the House (110-28 vote) and Senate (40-5 vote) on April 8. Signed into law by the governor April 8 and took effect Oct. 1, 2013. (Malone)
HB 759: General distracted driving prohibition. Outlaws operating vehicle “in an inattentive manner” that results in unsafe driving. Secondary enforcement. Specifies eating, grooming, use of electronic devices, etc. Same as HB 552 of 2012 and HB 1288 of 2011. (Malone)
Senate Bill 193: Calls for primary enforcement if a child under age 8 is in vehicle during a violation of handheld cell phone law. (King)
Senate Bill 339: Same as HB 753, above, and SB 217 of 2012. (Robey)
2013 distracted driving news & notes:
A 20-year-old woman has been hit with several manslaughter charges after she allegedly hit and killed a motorcyclist in Anne Arundel County. A warrant was served in early October on Elizabeth Haley Meyers, who is facing counts of negligent manslaughter while operating a vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter and reckless driving. A witness said she was texting just before she hit the 30-year-old motorcyclist in March.
Maryland State Police said they issued about 1,600 citations in October, the first under the revised distracted driving law.
Del. James Malone, D-Baltimore County, driving force behind the toughening of Maryland’s cell phone law, says an effective cell phone deterrent should have been enacted before text messaging was banned. “I think we did it backwards. We should have gotten rid of the cell phones first,” Malone said after HB 753 cleared the House in late March.
The bill, sent to the governor on April 8 and then signed into law, was a rerun of previously unsuccessful legislation by Malone. “They can’t have (a cell phone) in their hand whatsoever,” Malone says.
Two other 2013 bills also sought to remove the secondary enforcement limitation on the state’s existing handheld cell phone law.
State Sen. Nancy King puts a spin on the enforcement issue. Her Senate Bill 193 of 2013 specifies primary enforcement if a child under the age of 8 is in the vehicle when the driver violates Maryland’s handheld cell phone law. King, D-Montgomery County, also sponsors a bill seeking to increase penalties for not safely securing a child in a vehicle.
The state made several technical adjustments to its existing distracted driving laws during the 2012 legislative session. They included a separation of cell phones and texting devices under the legal definition of a “wireless communication device.”
2012 distracted driving news & notes:
Del. Malone says of his House Bill 104: “I want (handheld cell phone use while driving) to be a primary offense, and I want it to be identical to the texting bill.” Didn’t happen. As in 2011, lawmakers rejected plans to upgrade enforcement of the handheld cell phone law to primary status.
2012 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 55: Separates cell phones and texting devices in distracted driving law definitions. For text messaging violators under 18 years of age, possible punishment of 90-day license suspension and license restrictions. Approved by the House in a 121-14 vote Feb. 16. Approved by the Senate in a 39-7 vote of March 27. Latest action: Approved by the governor May 2. Same as SB 529, below. (Malone)
HB 104: Removes secondary enforcement status tag on Maryland distracted driving laws; specifies that bans on cell phones and other handheld electronic communications devices apply to use on “the travel portion of the roadway,” not just while in motion. Removes (lowered) fines of $40/$100 for these electronic distracted driving offenses and removes restriction on points against driver’s license for first-time offenders. Approved by the House in a 105-30 vote Feb. 24. Latest legislative action: Unfavorable report by Senate’s Judicial Proceedings panel March 30. Same as SB 217, below. (Malone, Kach)
HB 123: Would remove secondary enforcement status of laws regarding driving while using wireless communication devices. Withdrawn Feb. 13 after unfavorable report by Environmental Matters panel. (Clagett)
Senate Bill 217: Would assign primary enforcement status to existing laws regarding driving while using cell phones and other handheld communications devices. Would change requirement that vehicle must be “in motion” for offense to occur, to “in the travel portion of the roadway.” Removes (lowered) fines of $40/$100 for these electronic distracted driving offenses and removes prohibition on assigning points against license for first-time offenders. Unfavorable report of March 5 by Judicial Proceedings panel. (Robey, Conway, etc.)
SB 529: Separates cell phones and texting devices in definitions. For text messaging violators under 18 years of age, possible punishment of 90-day license suspension and license restrictions. Signed by governor May 2. Same as HB 55, see above. (Robey)
2011 distracted driving legislation:
SB 424: Updates current ban on text messaging to include prohibition against “reading” messages (as well as writing and sending). Removes current law’s language that allows texting while vehicle is stopped in traffic. Similar to HB 196. Approved by the Senate in a 35-11 vote on March 7. OK’d by the House in a 114-24 vote on March 31. Latest action: Signed into law by the governor on May 19. Goes into effect Oct. 1, 2011. (Brochin)
HB 196: Updates current ban on text messaging to close several loopholes: Includes prohibition against “reading” messages (as well as writing and sending); adds “electronic message” (email, IMs, etc.) to the texting ban; and changes the provision that an offender’s vehicle must be “in motion” to specify “in the travel portion of the roadway.” Approved by the Environment Matters committee on Feb. 27. Approved by the full House on March 3 in a 115-23 vote. Latest action: OK’d by the Senate in a 36-10 vote on March 31. (Malone)
HB 221: Specifies that current ban on teenage drivers’ use of wireless communications devices does not apply to use of device as a text messaging device (purpose unclear). Adds “electronic messages” to overall ban on texting. Approved by the House in a 122-13 vote taken March 21.Latest action: Received an “unfavorable report” from the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee on April 7. (Malone)
HB 222: Removes secondary enforcement status tag to distracted driving legislation; specifies bans apply to “the travel portion of the roadway,” not just while in motion. Approved by the House in a 92-39 vote on March 10. Sent to the Senate, where it was rejected by the Judiciary Committee (“unfavorable report”) on April 1. (Malone)
HB 373: Would repeal secondary enforcement provisions of laws regarding driving while using wireless communication devices. Unfavorable Report by Environmental Matters Committee withdrawn. (Clagett)
Distracted driving notes (2011):
The loophole in Maryland’s texting law that allowed “reading” of messages while driving as well as texting while at stoplights has been closed. The revised distracted driving law took effect Oct. 1, 2011.
Delegate Michael Smigiel blasted the state’s texting and driving law during debate over the (successful) bill that closed two of its loopholes: “This is a nanny-state bill. This is an infringement on your liberties,” said Smigiel, R-Cecil.
Closing the texting law’s loopholes “just takes the guessing work away from police officers,” said SB 424 sponsor Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County. The governor signed Brochin’s legislation on May 17, after it registered strong support in the legislature.
Talbot County Sheriff Dallas Pope said of HB 222’s rejection in the Senate: “Unfortunately, another year will pass with the chance of more lives being lost before we can address this once again. … They missed an opportunity to reduce the number of injuries and accidents caused by distracted drivers.” Pope is member of the Maryland Sheriffs Legislative Committee.
The Senate’s final approval of SB 424 came as a result of “one more year of legislators on the road and seeing someone who was not paying attention cause a near accident,” sponsor Sen. James Brochin said after the March 7 vote.
Just before the Senate gave initial approval to SB 424, Sen. Allan Kittleman attempted several amendments meant to make his point that distracted driving covers too many behaviors to legislate. One amendment sought to ban the reading of newspapers while driving, and the other proposed a ban on eating and drinking while driving. Those and other amendments were rejected before the emphatic March 3 vote in favor of closing the loophole in the state’s texting & driving law.
“This law goes to the core of the state invading the car,” Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore, said of SB 424. Another opponent, Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel County, said the bill gave police another tool with which to practice racial profiling.
Del. Jim Malone, D-Catonsville, is a longtime volunteer firefighter who often witnesses the effects of careless driving on bodies and property. He’s sponsoring three bills that would among other things make text messaging and use of handheld wireless devices a primary offense.
Distracted driving notes (pre-2011):
Maryland’s 2009 law outlawed the writing of text messages while driving, but not the reading of text messages. 2010 legislation that would close this loophole died on the last day of the session even though it was passed by the House and Senate. (It was revived for 2011).
Maryland’s law against text messaging and driving went into effect Oct. 1, 2009. Fines up to $500. Enforcement is “primary,” meaning police can pull over drivers for that reason alone. In the first year, police wrote more than 200 citations for texting.
Maryland retailers are enjoying a boom in hands-free devices for cell phones as the ban on using handheld mobile phones while driving has taken effect.
SB 321: Bans use of handheld cell phones while vehicle is in motion. Prohibits use of cell phones by school bus drivers and those with learner’s permits. Secondary enforcement. $40 fine (first offense), then $100. (Original bill’s fines were $100/$250). Known as the Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act. Approved by the Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 15 and then in amended form by the Maryland Senate (24-23 vote) on March 24. Sent to the House, where it won approval from the House Environmental Matters Committee on April 7. Approved by the House on April 9 (125-14 vote) and sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed it into law May 20. It goes into effect Oct. 1, 2010. (Stone)
HB 192: Prohibits reading of text messages while driving on Maryland’s roads and highways. Seeks to close loophole in 2009 texting law. Fine of up to $500. Approved by the House (135-2, March 11). The Senate voted for the bill on April 12 but sought to water down the texting law to apply only to vehicles that are in motion. This last-minute move put the bill back into play as the session ended. Dead for the year. (Malone)
HB 934: Would prohibit all drivers from use of handheld cell phones. Fine could be waived if driver shows proof of buying hands-free equipment. Also seeks to ban drivers over the age of 18 with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses from using all cell phones. Would prohibit cell phone use by school bus drivers. Primary enforcement. Fine $50 (first offense)/$100. No points on first offense unless an accident results. Calls for drivers-license test questions about wireless communications devices. (McIntosh)
SB 19: Similar to HB 934 (above). Primary enforcement. Voted down in the Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 15. (Lenett)
HB 385: Would outlaw a variety of wireless communications-related activities for drivers of motor vehicles, subway trains and light rail vehicles. Cites text messaging, web surfing, video games, video viewing. (Ali)
SB 294: Same as HB 299 (above). Cross-filed. Rejected by the Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 15. (Glassman)
HB 190: Would outlaw video display screens that are visible to the driver. Allows for video equipment that is used as envisioned by the vehicle manufacturer. (Malone)
SB 322: Seeks to ban video display screens (such as TVs) that are visible to the driver. Same as HB 190 (above). Cross-filed. Approved by the Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 15. (Stone)
2010 legislation notes:
The successful handheld cell phone ban SB 321 was aliased as the Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act, in memory of the late lawmaker who started pushing for cell phone driving regulation back in 1999. His friend Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Dundalk, is the sponsor.
The parents of a Harford County girl whose death was blamed on a texting trucker attended the cell phone legislation signing and took home the pen used by the governor to enact it into law.
Jennifer Smith, founding director of the survivors group Focus Driven, attended a Senate panel session on distracted driving Feb. 17. She asked lawmakers if “anyone’s life (is) worth a few minutes on the phone?” She lost her mother to a cell phoning driver.
The 2010 session ended April 12 without closing the loophole in Maryland’s texting ban.
SB 98: Prohibits text messaging while driving on Maryland’s roads and highways. Given final approval by the full Senate and amended by the House to exempt reading of text messages. Sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed it April 7. Took effect Oct. 1.
HB 72: Would prohibit text messaging while driving. Approved by the House on a 133-2 vote and sent to the Senate on March 28, 2009. (See above)
SB 143: Prohibits drivers from using cell phones and other wireless communications devices with their hands. Would ban school bus drivers from using wireless devices. Would prohibit drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses from using wireless devices. Appears dead in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, with an “unfavorable ruling” of March 10, 2009.
SB 103: Same as SB 143 but apparently limited to handheld cell phones. “Unfavorable ruling” from Judicial Committee on March 10, 2009.
HB 323: Would outlaw drivers’ use of wireless devices for texting. Given “unfavorable report” in the Environmental Matters Committee.
No mystery: Gov. Martin O’Malley had indicated that he’d sign legislation banning text messaging while driving when it emerges from the Maryland House of Delegates.
SB 98, the successful text-messaging bill, faced Republican resistance over its maximum $500 penalty, but an amendment that would have removed the fine was rejected in the Senate by a 16-31 vote. Also rejected was an attempt to require police to pull over drivers for another offense before citing for text messaging. The texting legislation received preliminary approval from the Senate on March 13 and then full Senate approval on March 17. The final Senate vote on the text-messaging bill was 43-4.
The sponsor is Sen. Norman Stone, D-Baltimore County. During the Senate debate, he said of text messaging and driving: “We’re trying to prevent accidents. We’re trying to prevent injuries. We’re trying to prevent deaths. There’s no question that this is a dangerous, dangerous practice.”
“This was the very least we could do to advance public safety,” said SB 98 co-sponsor Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Takoma Park, who also supports a ban on use of handheld cell phones while driving. “We didn’t get to the end zone, but we’ve moved the ball to the 50-yard line.”
SB 98, the texting legislation, is called the Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act. Arnick tried for eight years to get cell phone safety legislation through the Maryland General Assembly. He died in 2006.
Ragina Averella of AAA Mid-Atlantic on text messaging and driving: “Although there are numerous distractions facing motorists, this is an extreme distraction and one which poses increased safety risks by the very nature of the activity.”
Sen. Michael G. Lenett, D-Montgomery, sponsor of SB 143, says Gov. Martin O’Malley has vowed to sign the bill. “We are only fighting legislators at this point,” Lenett told the Baltimore Sun. Lenett’s has been backed by the Maryland State Police and the highway safety unit of the Maryland Department of Transportation. The bill appears dead for the 2009 session.
The Baltimore Sun has endorsed a ban on text messaging while driving.
Gov. Martin O’Malley has used his executive powers to ban use of handheld cell phones by Maryland state employees driving Maryland’s vehicles.
After a hearing in which legislators heard from a man whose daughter was killed in a texting-related crash, Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said: “If we can’t get a strong cell phone bill, then maybe we can get a strong texting-while-driving prohibition.”
During the 2008 session, Sen. Lenett, who had been pushing for limits on drivers’ use of cell phones and texting devices, pushed SB 2 through the full Senate in March, the first time a hand-held proposal was approved by a legislative body in Maryland. It was killed March 27 in a close vote in the state’s House Environmental Matters Committee committee.
“No one has convinced me that cellphones are as dangerous as people say,” a delegate who voted against the handheld phone ban said. Another opponent said, “We’re lacking data.”
“Very disappointing (but) we made more progress this year with this legislation than has ever been made before,” said Lenett, who’ll be reviving the cell phone driving proposal for ’09.
SB 461, which would have made the cell phone limits on teens a primary offense, also was rejected in March 2008.
Maryland’s Legislature has been debating cell phone driving bills since 1999.