Maryland’s Legislature has approved a ban on handheld cell phone use while driving. The law will team up with the state’s ban on text messaging while driving, approved last year.
The handheld cell phone bill, which calls for “secondary” enforcement,” won final approval April 9 and was sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who plans to sign it.
The same day, a Nebraska ban on texting while driving was sent to the governor. It, too, is limited to secondary status. The state’s governor vetoed a distracted driving bill in 2007, but was overridden.
The Maryland measure, which originated in the Senate, is dubbed the Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act, in honor 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.
Specifically, the Maryland bill bans the use of hands to operate a cell phone other than dialing or turning the device off and on. Drivers over 18 with restricted licenses are prohibited from using handheld cell phones, period. (Teens with restricted licenses already are prohibited from using the phones.)
The bill won final approval in the House vote of 125-14, with numerous amendments aimed at derailing the bill defeated on the final day.
Still, SB 321 doesn’t have a lot of teeth — fines start at $40 and police cannot stop a motorist simply because they believe the person is texting while behind the wheel. The bill’s fines were more than cut in half during the legislative process, from $100/$250 to $40/$100.
Still, Maryland joins an elite group of states that ban both text messaging and the use of handheld cell phones.
And Maryland also has exhibited a willingness to fix problems with distracted driving legislation: The House has approved legislation (HB 192) that would prohibit the reading of text messages while driving, an activity that remained legal under the 2009 law. (update): The Senate was expected to go along, but voted at the last minute to apply the texting law only to vehicles that are in motion. This put the bill back into play as the 2010 session ended.