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Two new Maryland laws target driving safety

September 30, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Two new Maryland laws taking effect Thursday target driving safety. One makes writing or sending a text message while driving a misdemeanor. The other allows speed cameras in school zones and within some work zones on highways.

"It's going to be just like any other violation," Maryland State Police 1st Sgt. Kevin Lewis said Wednesday of the text message law. "Troopers, when they're out there, will be alert for people who are violating this particular law."

He acknowledged it will be a difficult law to enforce.

Officers would have to observe someone typing or sending a text message in order to charge the person, he said.

Distracted driving is a problem, and talking on a phone is bad enough, because studies show conversation is enough to distract drivers, Lewis said. With texting, drivers have to take their eyes off the road much more than when they are using a cell phone, he said.

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The law prohibits typing and sending messages, but not reading them.

"I still think it's a bad idea to even read a text message. But the law does not prohibit that," Lewis said.

Violators will face a maximum fine of $500.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith agreed the texting ban will be difficult to enforce.

Should someone have an accident while texting, however, they will have committed a traffic infraction. If an officer sees someone weaving in traffic, the officer could pull over the driver and then find out the driver was texting.

"I can see it being enforced," Smith said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who voted in favor of the texting ban, said some accidents have involved people texting while driving. He voted for the ban, which was passed almost unanimously, in light of evidence about harm caused by distracted driving.

"You can wait to send an e-mail or text," Shank said Wednesday.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, agreed the law is a good one.

"The ban on texting while driving is a lifesaver," Donoghue said.

Smith said Wednesday he doesn't expect to use speed cameras in Hagerstown anytime soon. While he sees a potential safety benefit around schools, particularly Winter Street Elementary, the cameras are labor-intensive and the city would have to add staff in order to use them, he said.

Smith said he hopes to meet with a company that promises to install cost-neutral cameras. But any proposal would have to go before the Hagerstown City Council.

"We're a long way from considering speed cameras," he said.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said he wasn't aware of any plans to install cameras in the county.

Shank said he is against speed cameras. While enforcement is necessary, he asked, "what's wrong with posting officers and doing it the old-fashioned way?"

He fears the implementation of speed cameras will lead to more restrictive types of technologies and attempts to stifle freedoms down the road, Shank said.

Donoghue voted for the cameras.

"We're protecting our children and protecting our workers," Donoghue said.

If drivers don't speed, they won't have to worry about the cameras, he said.

More laws taking effect



Other laws affecting Washington County, effective Oct. 1:

o House Bill 1218 was sponsored by the Washington County delegation. This law prohibits a person from killing a dog found pursuing a deer in Washington County. Currently, people are prohibited from taking a dog into the woods and using the dog to hunt or pursue a deer. The Department of Natural Resources allows, by regulation, for the use of dogs to help recover killed, wounded or injured deer. In Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, Somerset and Worcester counties, people are prohibited from killing a dog that is pursuing a deer. In all other counties, any Natural Resources police officer, law enforcement officer, or any other person may kill any dog found pursuing any deer, except when the dog is being used to help recover killed, wounded or injured deer.

o House Bill 350 was sponsored by the Washington County delegation. This law increases the annual salary of the Washington County Board of Education by $600 per board member. The board president will receive an annual salary of $6,200. Other board members will receive an annual salary of $6,100. It also repeals the requirement that board members be paid in 12 equal monthly installments.

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