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Md. to crack down on cellphone use while driving

August 04, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Cell phone use while driving
By Ric Dugan / Staff Photographer

Talking on a cellphone while driving in the state of Maryland will become expensive Oct. 1.

That’s when officers will be allowed to pull over drivers and fine them for chatting while behind the wheel.

Although it currently is illegal for motorists to talk on cellphones in Maryland, police cannot pull them over and issue a citation unless they commit another offense, such as speeding, said Deputy 1st Class Carly Hose, spokeswoman for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“As of Oct. 1, it will become a primary offense, meaning an officer can make a traffic stop and issue a citation based on that offense,” Hose said.

Texting while driving has been a primary offense since Oct. 1, 2009.

Hose said motorists will be able to legally talk on the phone as long as they use a hands-free device. In addition, motorists can use their cellphones in the event of an emergency, Hose said, but they should pull over to make the call whenever possible.

She said the current fines for talking on the phone while driving are $40 for the first offense and $100 for the second offense.

Those penalties will increase Oct. 1, when the violation shifts from a secondary to a primary offense.

Motor Vehicle Administration spokesman Phil Dacey said maximum fines will rise to $75 for the first offense, $125 for the second offense and $175 for the third and subsequent offenses.

In a 20-minute span on Friday morning, 22 motorists were counted using cellphones at the intersection of Summit Avenue and West Washington Street in Hagerstown.

In 2010, more than 3,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver in the United States, and nearly half a million were injured, according to information on the MVA’s website.

Area residents who commented for this story said they have no problem with the stiffer law.

Charles Frazier, 42, of Hagerstown said he supports cracking down on motorists who talk on the phone while they’re driving.

“That’s what causes a lot of accidents,” Frazier said. “A lot of people get hurt like that ... I think they should give them a fine every time they do it.”

Alicia Foster, 34, of Hagerstown said she has seen people drive erratically while they were talking on cellphones. That kind of reckless behavior, she said, makes her worry about her four children.

“I saw a woman on the wrong side of the road (Thursday) talking on the phone,” Foster said. “You can’t concentrate on the road if you’re concentrating on the conversation. If someone is doing something like that, they’re being distracted. How is it that important? There was a time when there weren’t cellphones.”

Foster and several others said they believed motorists should receive heavy fines for talking on the phone.

“I think there should be a steep fine for something like that — not just a slap on the wrist,” said Mike Shockley, 44, of Hagerstown. “You should not be able to hold a phone and drive. It should not be legal.”

Brandy Allen, 31, of Hagerstown said talking on the phone while driving isn’t worth the risk.

She said she has a cellphone, but rarely uses it.

“There’s no reason for me to be on the phone driving,” Allen said. “I don’t even bring it. They can call me later.”

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Staying focused on the road

Tips for managing distractions while driving:

  • Turn your cellphone off before you get in the vehicle.
  • Place the cellphone in the back to avoid reaching for it.
  • Do not multitask — drivers make an average of 20 major decisions during every mile of driving.
  • Use safety apps to avoid texting and talking while behind the wheel.
  • Stay focused because distracted driving can make a driver 23 times more likely to crash.
  • Change voicemail and outgoing greeting message to indicate you are driving.
  • Ask your passenger to make a call for you.

Source: Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration

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