Driven to distraction

January 23, 2008

Driver distraction is a significant cause of car crashes in Maryland, and cell phone use is the leading source of such distraction. But that doesn't mean it's time to ban cell phones from moving vehicles entirely. Rather, it may be time to set some prudent limits.

Legislation heard by members of a state Senate committee yesterday may be the right starting point. The bill would ban cell phone use by bus drivers or beginning drivers with only a learner's permit or provisional driver's license. Most significant, it would prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones unless it's an emergency - or face a fine of up to $100 for a first offense. Similar laws were recently adopted in Oregon and Washington state. This summer, California's ban on driving while chatting on a hand-held (hands-free conversation is still permitted) goes into effect. That's not an unreasonable approach.

Make no mistake, this is no cure-all for the problem. The state can't very well ban every potential source of distraction, from unruly children to hot coffee or errant fly-swatting. At some point, the good judgment of motorists has to be relied upon. But we've witnessed too much erratic driving that's traceable to cell phone use - a problem exacerbated by text messaging - not to endorse some reasonable restrictions.

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