State Senate delays vote on measure to ban texting while driving

General Assembly 2009

March 12, 2009|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

Maryland senators delayed a vote yesterday on a proposed texting-while-driving ban to give time for a Republican lawmaker to offer a change that would reduce the suggested $500 maximum penalty to a warning.

The legislation is expected to come up again today, as lawmakers discuss banning the practice of sending and receiving text messages while behind the wheel. Maryland now bans texting and cell-phone use only by drivers younger than 18.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Republican who represents Baltimore and Harford counties, said he worried that the maximum $500 proposed fine was too onerous because it could require drivers to miss a day of work and hire an attorney to appear in court.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican, said the bill would be difficult to enforce because the proposed law prohibits texting but not dialing a cell phone to make a call. "How can a cop tell the difference?" Stoltzfus asked.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Norman Stone, a Baltimore County Democrat, said phone records could be subpoenaed in such cases, raising further objections from Stoltzfus that the bill could lead to excessive government scrutiny.

At that point in the debate, an exasperated Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller interrupted and said, "Nobody is going to subpoena anybody's phone records."

Stone said that the intent of the bill was to "send the message that texting is dangerous" while driving and that he doubted courts would levy the $500 fine on first-time offenders. But Republicans appeared skeptical.

The Senate passed a watered-down version of a texting ban last year, but the legislation didn't get through the House of Delegates. This year, the Senate has killed bills that would have prohibited using a "hand-held" telephone while driving.

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