Cumberland Times-News

March 23, 2013

Hang up!

Driver use of handheld phone should be penalized

Cumberland Times-News

— Have you noticed how the word “AMBULANCE” appears on the front of an ambulance? The letters are reversed, and they start at the right and go to the left. That’s so we can see it in our rear-view mirrors and read it instantly.

Somewhere in Allegany County — we have seen it — is a vintage pickup truck that has a message painted in similar fashion across the front of it hood. When read in a rear-view mirror, it says “Hang Up And Drive!”

Those are our sentiments as well, and it appears that members of Maryland’s House of Delegates feel the same way.

Last week, the House voted 106-29 to make talking on a handheld cell phone a primary offense. If passed by the Senate — which it should be — police officers can pull over and issue a citation to drivers they see talking on cell phones.

Judging from what we see on the highways, they shouldn’t want for targets of opportunity. Under current law, talking on a handheld phone is a secondary offense, meaning police can charge the driver only if that person has been pulled over for another offense — such as speeding.

Talking on a handheld cell phone or driving while distracted in any other fashion (drivers are actually seen reading when they should be paying attention to what’s going on around them) is dangerous to them, their passengers and anyone else who is unlucky enough to be on the road near them.

The fine under current law is $40 for first offenders, with no points assessed against the driver’s license. The new bill would raise the maximum fine to $500, and points would be assessed.

This is a good bill. The Senate should pass it without hesitation, and Gov. Martin O’Malley should sign it in similar fashion.