ANNAPOLIS – Maryland legislators are once again considering a bill that would prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, a proposal modeled after a Washington, D.C., law that went into effect in 2004.
This year’s bill targets more than cell phone use. It would allow police to cite anyone who is blatantly distracted while driving by performing such activities as putting on makeup, eating, reading or writing.
The bill’s sponsor, Delegate John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, has proposed the bill in previous years, and each time it has failed. But he said he gets more support each year and his constituents are very vocal with their complaints.
“Every year more and more people get aggravated,” he said. “Everyday, almost, somebody complains to me about somebody on a cell phone driving.”
In testimony before the House Environmental Matters Committee Tuesday, Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson, director of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said that motorists who drive while they are distracted by other tasks are a big problem. He said studies indicate that cell phone use is only one of the factors that constitute distractive driving.
“The bill mentions reading, writing, performing personal grooming, interacting with animals, adjusting cargo or engaging in any other activity that distracts the person’s attention,” he said. “This language expands this bill significantly, in my mind, to beyond a cell phone bill. It empowers police to do something about distractive driving.”
But Gary M. Horewitz, government affairs counsel for Sprint Nextel, testified in opposition to the bill. He said Sprint Nextel would not oppose legislation that would cite people who drive poorly in general.
“What we do oppose is making the assumption that mere use of a cell phone is automatically a distractive driving issue,” he said.
Horewitz also said Sprint Nextel is in favor of educating its customers about the risks of driving while on a cell phone and that drivers need to pay attention to driving. He said Sprint Nextel suggests that if someone must answer his or her phone, the driver should say, “I can’t talk right now, I have to focus on my driving,” and get off the phone.
Anderson said the cell phone itself is not necessarily the problem.
“Holding the cell phone is not the issue,” he said, “but it’s holding the conversation.” When asked if he thought the bill would pass this year, Arnick replied: “I don’t know; I don’t like to guess.”