VIA THE BALTIMORE SUN:
The House of Delegates voted Friday 125-14 to approve an historic ban using a hand-held cell phone while driving after rejecting a series of Republican-sponsored amendments.
Because the Senate has already passed the bill in the same form, the measure goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has indicated he will sign it.
The bill makes a driver’s use of a hand-held cell phone while a vehicle is in motion a secondary offense, which means a police officer could not pull over a motorist unless the officer observes another violation.
There is an exception for using a hand-held device while stopped at a red light. Hands-free devices are not covered by the law. The fine for a first offense would be $40, with a $100 penalty for further violations.
The bill is named after the late Del. John S. Arnick, who introduced the first legislation addressing driving while using a cell phone more than a decade ago.
The ban has been proposed — and defeated — for years.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, Maryland would join six other states in barring the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Those states – California, Connecticut., New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington – differ from Maryland in having made it a primary offense. The District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands also have enacted bans.
The bill’s passage follows emotional hearings on the issue. In the Senate, the founding director of a new national group called Focus Driven testified that stricter laws were needed. Jennifer Smith, a Dallas resident whose mother died in a September 2008 collision with a driver who was on a cell phone, asked lawmakers if “anyone’s life [is] worth a few minutes on the phone.”
Also testifying was Russell Hurd, a Harford County resident whose daughter died in a Florida collision with a truck driver who had been sending a message at the time. Hurd was a key advocate last year as legislators enacted a statewide ban on text messaging while driving. Calling that measure “the first step to safer highways,” he urged lawmakers to “finish the job.”
Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, chairwoman of the committee that unanimously approved the legislation, recalled that when Arnick first introduced the measure, hundreds of people would come to testify against it. Among the fierce opponents in those days were real estate agencts and the cellular phone companies themselves.
This year, she said, not one person signed up in opposition.
McIntosh said that when Arnick introduced the original bill, there were two things you could do with a cell phone: make a call or receive a call.
Now, she said, “you can play games, tou can get on Facebook, you can tweet” — among many other functions she listed.
“We all know that people are multitasking. They’re not just making phone calls,” she said.
But Del. Michael Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican who offered a series of amendments that failed by large margins, said drivers were also subject to many distraction that don’t involve cell phones — shaving, applying makeup, reading books and newspapers among them.
“You can’t legislate everything people do behind the wheel,” he said. “Protect our freeedoms. Stop the nanny state.”
The strong House vote contrasts with the narrow, 24-23 margin by which the measure passed the Senate. In the Senate, most Republicans opposed the bill, but in the House more than half supported it on the final vote.
Some delegates wanted to make a cell phone violation a primary offense, meaning that an officer could stop a motorist for that alone. But McIntosh’s committee decided to go along with the Senate plan to make it a secondary offense in view of the 24-23 margin by which it passed that chamber.
McIntosh said she didn’t want to risk losing the bill in the rush to Monday night’s adjournment by returning it to the Senate.