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Area's lawmakers oppose barring drivers' cell calls

February 04, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A Baltimore County lawmaker says it's dangerous to drive while talking on a cellular phone and wants to put a stop to the growing practice.

But some other lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday, including two from Washington County, said they don't like the idea.

"To me, this is Big Brother once again telling you what to do," said Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

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Del. John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, wants to make it illegal to talk on a hand-held cellular phone while driving.

Although not as dangerous as drunken driving, talking on a cell phone is a distraction that causes accidents, he said.

"Let's get to that problem before it becomes an epidemic," he told Snodgrass and other members of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee on Wednesday.

Motorists could still use devices that allow them to talk on the phone while keeping both hands on the wheel, he said.

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Del. Christopher B. Shank, who also sits on Commerce and Government Matters, said dangerous cell phone etiquette is already covered by laws against reckless and negligent driving.

"I'm a conservative and I don't think our reaction to everything should be to pass a law," said Shank, R-Washington.

Shank said he also was concerned such a law would burden law enforcement officers who have more important problems to deal with.

Shank said he rarely talks on his cell phone while driving, but he's careful when he does.

Last week he paused during a conversation with his parents so he could concentrate on crossing two lanes of traffic on Interstate 97, he said.

Snodgrass said she also has a phone that she rarely uses. Her husband encouraged her to get the phone for safety when she was first elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1994.

Snodgrass said she's concerned that a cell phone law would encourage people to pull over on the shoulders of highways, creating another type of traffic hazard.

Representatives from Cellular One and Bell Atlantic Mobile testified against the bill.

Cellular One has 1.5 million customers in Maryland, and 80 percent use hand-held mobile phones.

"Are you really going to pass a law that makes 1.5 million Marylanders criminals," said Paul Tiburzi, a Baltimore lawyer speaking for the company.

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