House approves hand-held cell phone driving ban
The House of Delegates just voted 125-14 to approve an historic ban on driving while using a hand-held cell phone after rejecting a series of amendments.
Because the Senate has already passed the bill in the same form, the measure goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has said he will sign it.
The bill makes a driver's use of a hand-held cell phone while a vehicle is in motion a secondary offense, which means a police officer could not pull over a motorist unless the officer observes another violation. The bill makes a first offense punishable by a $40 ticket; subsequent violations carry a $100 fine. The ban does not apply to hand-free calling such as that using Bluetooth devices.
The bill is named after the late Del. John S. Arnick, who introduced the first legislation addressing driving while using a cell phone more than a decade ago.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the committee that unanimously approved the legislation, recalled that when Arnick first introduced the measure, hundreds of people would come to testify against it. Among the fierce opponents in those days were real estate agencts and the cellular phone companies themselves.
THis year, she said, not one person signed up in opposition.
McIntosh said that when Arnick introduced the original bill, there were two things you could do with a cell phone: make a call or receive a call.
Now, she said, "you can play games, tou can get on Facebook, you can tweet" -- among many other functions she listed.
"We all know that people are multitasking. They're not just making phone calls," she said.
But Del. Michael Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican who offered a series of amendments that failed by crushing margins, said drivers were also subject to many distraction that don't involve cell phones -- shaving, applying makeup, reading books and newspapers among them.
"You can't legislate everything people do behind the wheel," he said. "Protect our freeedoms. Stop the nanny state."
The strong House vote contrasts with the narrow, 24-23 margin by which the measure passed the Senate. In the Senate, most Republicans opposed the bill, but in the House more than half supported it on the final vote.