Cumberland Times-News

Columns

May 1, 2014

Scofflaws

Many Maryland drivers are learning the hard way — via their wallet — that it is illegal to use a hand-held phone or to text while driving a motor vehicle in the state.

According to the District Court of Maryland, police throughout the state charged 14,490 drivers for using a hand-held phone while driving between Oct. 1, 2013, when the law took effect, and April 1, 2014. In the seven months before the new law took effect, between March 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2013, police charged 4,096 drivers with using a cellphone as a secondary offense, ticketed in conjunction with another violation.

Currently, the fine for using a handheld phone while driving is $83 for the first offense, $140 for the second offense and $160 for the third offense. Under current law, if a driver causes an accident while using their phone they will receive the same amount of fines plus three points on their driving record.

Starting Oct. 1, the measure called “Jake’s Law” — named for 5-year-old Baltimore boy Jake Owen who was killed in 2011 when his family’s car was struck by another driver talking on a cellphone — allows for enhanced penalties, including a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail for drivers who cause a serious or fatal crash while using a cellphone or texting.

Use of hands-free phones also can be a distraction. Howard Egeth, a psychological and brain sciences professor at Johns Hopkins University, said hands-free devices still require drivers to be mentally engaged. “People would think that hands-free is better, but really it turns out that the research shows that it’s about as bad. The hands-free [device] still involves the brain pretty fully, it just frees up your hands, but you’re still engaged,” Egeth said.

Despite the law — and law enforcement agencies’ campaign to publicize it — we still see drivers on a daily basis holding phones and driving.

As more tickets are written across the state, motorists will realize the law is going to be enforced.

Highways are dangerous enough without allowing drivers to use distractions like hand-held phones and texting devices.

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