Oprah says: Put down that cell phone
TV host Oprah Winfrey, supported by the Maryland State Highway Administration and many other organizations around the country, is urging drivers to observe Friday as an occasion to set aside cell phones and other distractions and concentrate on the road.
For Marylanders, the first "No Phone Zone Day" will be an opportunity to get in practice for the coming law -- expected to be signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley -- prohibiting driving while chatting on a cell phone. That law would take effect Oct. 1. While it would not be a primary offense -- one for which you could be pulled over if you were doing nothing ellse wrong -- all you would have to do is be speeding and you could get a ticket.
Winfrey said she hopes to see bans on cell phones and texting behind the wheel become mandatory and as ubiquitous as seat bbelt laws. She expects Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm to join her on The Oprah Winfrey Show today to sign that states's new ban on texting while driving -- a measure Maryland adopted last year.
State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said Maryland will support the effort with public service announcements and messages on electronic signs. “Texting or chatting while driving may appear to be a more innocent act than aggressive or drunk driving – but it can have equally deadly consequences,” he said.
Meanwhile, AAA Mid-Atlantic released a poll showing that 84 percent of its Maryland members support stricted penalties for distracted driving. AAA said 57 percent of Maryland motorists strongly support a ban on the use of all celll phones and text-messaging devices while driving.
Some of those Marylanders may need a push from a law -- or Oprah -- to actually refrain from electronic distractions, the poll indicated. It found that 45 percent of AAA's Maryland members admitted to driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone over the past six months.
The measure adopted by the Maryland Ggeneral Assembly earlier this month would permit tthe use of hand-free cell phones while driving, but the exemption does not enjoy universal support. Thepoll found that 28 percent of Maryland motorists oppose the use of hand-free devices while driving.