This table shows which southern Maryland legislators voted for and against 2010 Senate Bill 321 which bans the hand-held use of cell phones while driving in Maryland. All of these legislators face an election on November 2. (Data Source:
CALLAWAY, Md. (September 30, 2010)Talking on a hand-held mobile phone while driving on a street or highway in Maryland becomes illegal Friday, October 1. Exceptions are allowed for calls placed to 9-1-1, ambulance, hospital, fire, or law enforcement agencies, as are calls made by emergency and law enforcement personnel. A driver is also allowed to turn a handheld phone on or off and to initiate or terminate a call.
It will still be legal to make a call using a hands-free device such as a bluetooth headset (and scarf down a cheeseburger, control an iPod, apply lipstick, check the GPS, search for a dropped item, and yell at your children) while driving.
The legislation is contained in the "Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act of 2010" (Senate Bill 321
) and was approved by Governor Martin O'Malley on May 20 of this year.
The law is named for the late delegate in honor of his many years of advocacy for such a law, according to a State Highway Administration press release.
The law is a secondary offense, meaning that a driver can only get cited if already stopped for a different traffic infraction, like running a stop sign or having a broken tail light.
But if pulled over for a traffic violation, chances are the driver will have the good sense to hang up.
"The main incentive is it might be a lifesaver," said Terrence Sheridan, superintendent of the Maryland State Police at a press conference Tuesday, when asked why drivers should comply with the ban. "People who don't change their behavior will be cited because they're more likely to have a traffic violation for being distracted."
The fine for the first violation of the ban is $40 and each subsequent citation is $100. However, on the first offense, courts can waive tickets if the driver provides proof of purchase of a hands-free device. If the violator causes a crash, he or she may receive three points.
The cell-phone ban is intended to decrease the annual average of 31,000 car crashes in Maryland, Beverley Swaim-Staley, the secretary of the Department of Transportation, said at the same press conference.
Of the 549 people who died in car crashes last year, "the majority would be alive except for one bad decision they made while driving," Swaim-Staley said.
And since the risk of crashing increases 30 percent by using a phone, the new law is a step toward reaching zero deaths while driving, Swaim-Staley said.
Maryland now joins seven other states (Calif., Conn., Del., N.J., N.Y., Ore. and Wash.), D.C. and the Virgin Islands in banning handheld cell phone use while driving.
Maryland already bans texting while driving. This law prohibits an individual from writing or sending a text message while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion or in the travel portion of the highway. This law does not apply to texting 9-1-1 or using a global positioning system.
The State will place signs at state borders to alert drivers about Marylands laws prohibiting hand-held cell phone use and texting while driving.
Alexis Gutter of Capital News Service contributed to this article.