Maryland Seeks to Add More Teeth to Distracted Driver Laws

While the invention of Internet enabled smartphones has brought a world of information and communication to our fingertips, it’s also created a serious traffic safety challenge — both here in Maryland and across the U.S.

Your grandparents never could have imagined that one day people would be typing messages to and from each other on small hand-held devices — while driving an automobile. However we’re living in an age of instant, wireless communications, and there’s no going back. This poses a never-before seen problem to traffic safety advocates and lawmakers. How do we get drivers to stop talking and texting, put down their cell phones, and FOCUS on the road?

Some high profile cases in the national news this week have shone a harsh light on texting while driving. These include the first homicide texting while driving case on trial in Massachusetts, and a New Jersey case where lawyers representing two motorcyclists who lost limbs in an auto crash sought to name the sender of text messages in a distracted driving lawsuit (a judge determined the text-sending girlfriend of the motor vehicle driver charged in this case cannot be held liable).

Baltimore County car accident injury lawyers know firsthand from work with clients how devastating a serious traffic crash can be. Sadly, some drivers think “this can never happen to me” and put their cell phone calls and text messages ahead of their own safety, and that of other motorists and pedestrians around them. Let’s take a few moments to review the related distracted driving laws here in Maryland.

  • As of October 2011, Maryland bans ALL texting while driving. Maryland lawmakers closed a loophole late last year that had allowed drivers to engage in texting at stop lights — which anyone who’s tried to navigate Baltimore City streets knows is a really bad idea.
  • Use of handheld cellphones while driving is banned in Maryland, however law enforcers may only cite drivers for this as a secondary offense. Three pieces of state legislation seek to make use of handheld cellphones while driving a primary offense in Maryland (see links below).
  • Novice drivers under age 18 with their learners’ permits or intermediate licenses are prohibited from using cell phones.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports that as of May 2012,

“…10 states, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Except for Maryland and West Virginia (until July 2013), all laws are primary enforcement-an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.”

Two other pending pieces of Maryland legislation seek to separate the definitions of cell phones and texting devices in regards to distracted driver laws (HB 55 and SB 529). Here’s hoping our Maryland lawmakers can help our state become safer for all motorists this year.

Related Maryland Accident Injury Attorney articles:

Why Distracted Driving in Maryland Can Be as Deadly as Drunk Driving (April 17, 2012)

U.S. Highway Safety Group Green Lights Maryland Traffic Laws, While Noting Areas that Need Improvement (Jan. 18, 2012)

Sources:

Governors Highway Safety Association: Cell Phone and Texting Laws May 2012
GHSA.org May 2012
Maryland Completely Bans Text Messaging While Driving
ABC 7, News Channel 8 Sept. 30, 2011
Related Maryland Traffic Safety Legislation:

House Bill 104: Motor Vehicles – Use of Wireless Communication Device – Prohibited Acts, Enforcement, and Penalties
House Bill 123: Vehicle Laws – Wireless Communication Devices – Enforcement of Prohibitions on Use While Driving
Senate Bill 217: Motor Vehicles – Use of Wireless Communication Device – Prohibited Acts, Enforcement, and Penalties