Local lawmakers deserve credit for cellphone bill [Commentary]

April 18, 2013

We've all seen them on the road — people driving too slowly, drifting out of their lane or oblivious to a changing traffic signal. Chances are, these distracted drivers are using a cellphone. The days of doing so with impunity in Maryland are just about over.

The General Assembly has passed a new, tougher bill cracking down on this dangerous behavior and much of the credit goes to a delegate whose district includes both Baltimore and Howard counties, James E. Malone Jr., along with a state senator, James Robey of Howard County, the co-sponsor.

Malone, chairman of the House committee that oversees traffic laws, saw the bill he shepherded through the just-ended session of the General Assembly achieve passage on the final day.

Talking on a cellphone while driving is already against the law in Maryland, but only as a secondary offense, meaning drivers can only be pulled over and charged with it if they are committing a separate traffic violation. The bill, should it be signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose aids have said he will sign it, will make it a primary offense — violating it alone is enough to get you pulled over and charged.

Talking while driving will be just as illegal as texting while driving, which is also a primary offense.

A conviction for talking while driving will carry a fine of $75, which would increase with the next two offenses.

The cellphone bill applies to drivers whose cars are in motion. Calls made while stopped at a red light will still be permitted, the result of an amendment made in a Senate committee.

Also, the final bill had a measure removed that would have penalized drivers by putting points on their record, which could be reported to insurance companies, resulting in higher premiums.

The tweaks to the bill probably contributed to its passage. Malone and Robey proposed a similar measure last year that failed.

Credit the public safety backgrounds of the co-sponsors for their determination on this bill. Malone is a retired Baltimore County firefighter and Robey is the former Howard County police chief.

Thanks to them, Maryland is on the verge of having an updated tool to make streets and highways a little safer. The outcome may not be something we will notice happening, but rather something — like an accident — that doesn't happen.

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