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Oct. 8, 2009

Texting while driving now illegal

by Jewel Galbraith, Print Managing Features Editor and Rebecca Guterman, Print Managing News Editor & Public Relations Director
Text messaging while driving is now prohibited by state law and punishable by a fine of up to $500, according to Maryland Delegate Frank Turner (D-Howard).

The law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, says specifically that is illegal to text while operating a moving vehicle, including a vehicle stopped at a red light, Delegate Jeffrey Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) said.

However, the law does not apply to drivers texting while pulled over on the side of the road, he said. If a texting driver and causes an accident, the fine goes up to $160 and the penalty is raised to three points on the driver's license. Turner add that the maximum penalty available is $500.

Waldstreicher said he hopes the law will reduce accidents in Maryland due to texting. "The incidence of accidents from texting while driving is extremely high, much higher than regular cell phone use," he said.
He explained that the bill was not meant to trap people or cause unnecessary tickets, but rather to prevent a dangerous practice that most people understand is wrong. "It's intended as an extra reminder and incentive for people to do what they know they should be doing, which is to stop texting while driving," Waldstreicher said.

Turner also cited statistics from the Department of Transportation. He said that texting while driving is 23 percent more dangerous than drunk driving.

Though issues of driving and texting began with teenagers, Waldstreicher said that the problem has spread to drivers of all ages, which is why he decided to co-submit the original bill with Turner in 2008.

The bill passed a year later and Waldstreicher said it received support from many different groups. "We have a lot of support from folks of all ages," he said. "Everyone has seen someone else on the road bobbing and weaving, and you think it's a drunk driver until you pull up next to them and realize they're just texting."

Turner said that the American Automobile Association (AAA), an organization that provides driver and traveler services, and the Department of Transportation were ardent supporters of the bill and testified at hearings in favor of it.

Waldstreicher said that he and Turner began work on the bill in 2007. According to Turner, they found research to support their bill through Internet searches, news articles and talking to the Department of Transportation. Turner said that similar bills had already been passed in other states and he felt it was time for Maryland join the crowd.

Virginia jumped on the bandwagon earlier this year, passing a texting while driving ban that took effect in July. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 18 states and the District of Columbia ban texting in a moving vehicle for all drivers, while another nine ban texting for new drivers.

The Maryland bill passed unanimously in the Maryland House of Delegates and the state Senate earlier this year, according to Howard.

Turner said he wants the bill to make the state safer. "Hopefully most people will understand the danger and stop texting," he said.

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