Motorists have a responsibility to know the cell-phone laws of states where they drive

TRAFFIC TALK

November 06, 2005|By JODY K. VILSCHICK

Is driving while talking on your cell phone a crime? In some places it is. Do you know Maryland's laws regarding using your cellular telephone while behind the wheel?

And what if you happen to be on your way to Philadelphia? Or suppose you're driving your son or daughter back to college at Princeton?

"What are the current laws governing cell phone use in nearby states?" Zachary Greggson wondered. This is something he needs to know, he said, because he frequently travels around Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

Mr. Greggson noted that many states - New Jersey among them - have signs along major interstates informing incoming drivers to put their headlights on if their windshield wipers are on, but no similar signs about the state's policies on cell-phone use while behind the wheel.

Although no federal law prohibits motorists from chatting on cell phones while driving, some states and local jurisdictions have enacted laws that do.

What makes it clear as mud is that jurisdictions have set different levels of restrictions.

Some states prohibit the use of "hand-held devices" while operating a motor vehicle, but do allow the use of headsets, while other states prohibit new drivers from using cell phones, although new drivers' older siblings and parents can use them.

To make matters more confusing, some Pennsylvania municipalities - the towns of Conshohocken, Lebanon and West Conshohocken - are getting in on the act and prohibiting cell-phone use, but elsewhere in the state, driving while talking on a cell phone is legal.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, only Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have enacted jurisdictionwide bans on driving while talking on "hand-held wireless phones." In other words, in New Jersey and the District of Columbia, headsets may be used.

Ten states (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas) and the District of Columbia restrict new-driver use of cellular telephones entirely in the graduated licensing system.

As a motorist and a cell-phone user, it is your responsibility to know the relevant laws in the states in which you drive, whether you live there or are visiting for the day. For state-by-state restrictions on cell phone use while driving: www.statehighwaysafety.org/ html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone _laws.html.

We all claim to hate it when we see other drivers doing it, but let's be honest here: We all use our cell phones while we're out on Maryland roads.

So, at least while it is still legal, try to follow these tips to make the roads safer:

Always dial while the car isn't moving.

Never use your cell phone in heavy traffic or bad weather.

Use speed dialing as much as possible.

Use a hands-free cell phone.

Never look up phone numbers while driving.

Never have stressful conversations while driving (this also goes for conversations between the driver and passengers).

Keep your eyes on the road while talking on your cell phone.

You might be wondering whether there are other groups of drivers prohibited from using cell phones while behind the wheel. School-bus drivers come to mind as people who probably have enough distractions around them. Notably, many states have restrictions on bus drivers using cell phones while driving.

But in Maryland? You guessed it: It is legal.

U.S. 29 exit

Ken Markovitz wondered whether anyone shared his complaints about the U.S. 29 southbound exit to Route 32 eastbound.

"This exit is a mess with accidents just waiting to happen," Mr. Markovitz said.

He noted that there is little merge area for drivers coming off U.S. 29 southbound onto Route 32 eastbound, as well as for drivers wanting to exit from Route 32 eastbound onto U.S. 29 northbound.

"[These] drivers must share a very small piece of merge area, and drivers must cross each other's path to get to where he/she wants to go," he said. "This crossover is deadly."

Mr. Markovitz said drivers "by nature" don't work together to mutually get where they want to be. "It is all about me - not about the common goal to help each other get to our desired [destinations]."

However, he said, this "fight for space" wouldn't be so necessary if the State Highway Administration had provided drivers with a longer or better-planned merge area.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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