(Sept. 27, 2013) Reading a text message or talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving could lead to a fine for drivers starting Tuesday, Oct. 1. Also that day, several other new laws, including sweeping gun-control regulations, go into effect.
On Oct. 1, Maryland police will be able to stop drivers for hand-held cell phone use and all passengers in a motor vehicle will be required to wear a seat belt. Fines for first-time cell phone use violators will increase from $40 to $75 and passengers who are not buckled up could face an increase in fines from $25 to $50.
Under existing law, police could cite a driver for hand-held cell phone use only if the driver was stopped for some other traffic violation, such as speeding. Starting Tuesday, use of a hand-held cell phone while driving will be considered a primary offense and fines will increase for each offense. No points will be assessed to a driver’s license unless the violation contributes to a crash.
“Distracted driving because of cell phone use and texting is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle collisions,” Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 11 percent of fatal auto accidents and 17 percent of ‘injury crashes’ in 2011 have cited distracted driving as a contributing factor. Drivers should always remember to park the phone before driving.”
Ragina C. Averella, manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, said that she was glad that state legislators pushed for the handheld cell phone ban this year after failing to pass it last year.
“We are pleased that the Maryland General Assembly recognized the importance of strengthening the handheld cell phone ban, as it will now serve as a real deterrent to motorists and enable police to better enforce the existing law. This measure will help stem the epidemic of distracted drivers in Maryland,” Averella said.
According to preliminary Maryland motor vehicle crash data for 2012, approximately 52,136, or 58 percent, of the 89,655 vehicle crashes involved a distracted driver, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office.
Nearly half, 246, of the estimated 511 fatalities on the state’s road last year were due to a distracted driver. Approximately 28,515, or 64 percent, of the estimated 44,027 injuries statewide were the result of crashes involving a distracted driver.
Parking the phone and not being a distracted driver is not the only simple thing that can protect safety on the roads. Wearing a seatbelt is an essential choice a citizen can make while in a vehicle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2011, seat belts saved an estimated 11,949 lives nationwide. This includes back seat passengers, not just those in the front seat.
Buckling a seatbelt or staying off cell phones are two of the simplest things that can be done to prevent a vehicle collision.
The new gun control law, the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, requires people to have specific safety training, including the actual firing of a gun, before they may purchase a firearm. Handgun magazines will be limited to 10 rounds and gun buyers must submit their fingerprints and obtain a handgun license before their purchase.
Other laws going into effect in Maryland on Tuesday include the repeal of the death penalty and the legalization of medical marijuana, which may be distributed to qualified academic medical centers.
Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed 11 members of the Medical Marijuana Commission, which is authorized to permit the centers to begin programs making marijuana available to specific groups of patients.
Police in Worcester County and elsewhere will enforce the new legislation changes beginning Oct.1.