Maryland Senate Hears Bill to Double Fines for Handheld Cell Phone Use while Driving

When it comes to distracted driving, Maryland has some of the toughest traffic laws in the US. Texting while driving is prohibited and considered a primary offense. In October 2013, Maryland joined our neighbors in Washington, D.C., in making use of handheld cell phones while driving illegal as well. The only exception is to make an emergency call to 911. (Note: Talking on speakerphone, using hands-free Bluetooth technology, and with cellphone headsets is permissible while driving in Maryland, except for youthful drivers with learners’ permits.)

Still, these laws haven’t stopped some Maryland drivers from doing dangerous things they’re not supposed to do while driving—including using handheld cell phones. Now, Maryland lawmakers want to increase fines for using hand held cellphones while driving in hopes of getting errant drivers to change their risky behaviors. The current maximum fine of $175 is apparently not enough to discourage some motorists to put down their phones until their cars are in park.

Delegate Frank Turner (District 13, Howard County) believes the 40,479 citations issued to Maryland drivers in FY 2015, according to State District Court data, shows the dangerous practice of talking on handheld mobile devices is still widespread among Maryland drivers. Nationally, distracted driving has become as dangerous as drunk driving, causing serious and often fatal car accidents. So Turner introduced a bill making its way through the Maryland General Assembly aimed at hitting our state’s offending drivers where it hurts them most—in their wallets.

Under current Maryland law, the maximum fine for being caught driving while talking on a handheld device is $75, $125 and $175 (for first, second, and third offenses respectively). Turner doesn’t believe that’s enough to incent drivers to put down their cell phones. He reportedly told the news media, “I see (distracted driving) all the time and other people see it too; $75 doesn’t seem to be enough to get people off their phones, but maybe $150 will.”

House Bill 0212, “Use of Handheld Telephone While Driving,” introduced in the state House Environment and Transportation Committee on Feb. 11, 2016, would double the current maximum fine for distracted driving to $150 for first-time offenders, $250 for second-time offenders and $350 for third-time offenders and beyond.

So far, Maryland lawmakers agree with Turner. The bill made its way through the House in January and February, passing with amendments. It’s scheduled for a Senate hearing on March 24, 2016. If enacted into law, the new fines will go into effect on October 1, 2016.

Some encouraging news: Data from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration shows that deaths from distracted driving motor vehicle accidents in Maryland have been declining since 2004. We’ll wait to see if the steeper fines, if enacted into law, help make stubborn Maryland motorists click off their cell phones and concentrate on driving. As we’ve always said, no cell phone call is worth the cost of a damaged vehicle, bodily injury, or worst of all—a life.

Sources:

Vehicle Laws – Use of Handheld Telephone While Driving – Penalties
Maryland General Assembly March 18, 2016

Legislator, Advocates Look for Solutions to Distracted Driving
Capital News Service Feb. 26, 2016

No Handheld Cell Phone Use While Driving in Md. Beginning Oct. 1
NBC Washington Sept. 27, 2013