Cell-phone ban pushed by Dixon

July 11, 2008|By Gadi Dechter and John Fritze | Gadi Dechter and John Fritze,Sun reporters

Mayor Sheila Dixon intends to impose a rule banning the use of cell phones, BlackBerrys and other personal communication devices by city employees who are driving, she said yesterday.

According to a memo outlining Dixon's plans that was sent this week to city department heads and top officials, the mayor's proposal could go much further than a statewide cell phone ban rejected this year by the General Assembly. That bill would have allowed the use of hands-free devices, while Dixon's plan appears not to, according to the July 9 memo.

Dixon cautioned that the proposal is in draft form, but she said that some form of the rule will be imposed. "We want to lead by example to get people to drive safely," Dixon said. "Why not start with city workers?"

The ban would not apply to communication devices issued to fire and police officers but could apply to emergency responders' personal cell phones.

Paul M. Blair Jr., president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police, said he has reviewed the proposed policy change and that he strongly opposes it as a matter of safety for police officers. He said he intends to send a letter expressing his concerns to the city's labor commissioner.

"It's a working condition, which means it has to be negotiated at the bargaining table," Blair said, adding that "those who are pushing it all have chauffeurs."

Blair said he has heard of situations in which officers must rely on cell phones because the batteries of their police radios have died. He also said officers sometimes use cell phones to communicate when they don't want their transmissions to be picked up by police scanners.

But Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, head of the fire officers union, said he "completely" supported Dixon's proposal. "Our members are pushing around apparatus that weighs 20 tons" and are already potentially distracted by radio communication, he said.

"To add another distraction, I think, is probably a bit much," Fugate said.

Efforts to enact a ban on using hand-held cell phones while driving failed in the General Assembly this year, though the bill came closer to becoming law than ever before. The legislation would have prohibited talking and texting while holding a wireless device but would have allowed the use of hands-free accessories. It passed the Senate but died in a House of Delegates committee.

Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat and traffic safety advocate, said he didn't think a total ban of the type Dixon is contemplating is politically viable in Annapolis. But he said the Baltimore proposal could be a useful case study for Maryland's legislators.

"I hope that it gets studied, and maybe there are some lessons we can learn from it," Bronrott said.

Under Dixon's draft proposal, city employees would not be allowed to simultaneously drive and:

* Use a cell phone

* Read, write or send text messages

* Operate a laptop computer or other personal communication devices, such as a pager or iPod

Dixon's labor commissioner, Deborah F. Moore-Carter, has asked municipal department heads to provide input to the proposal by Thursday. In a memo, Moore-Carter said Dixon's policy will be submitted to the Board of Estimates for approval.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.