Hand-held phone ban starts Friday
Drivers can get fines, points if seen with devices in use
Beginning Friday, it will be against the law to drive with one hand on the phone and the other on the wheel.
The state's ban on using hand-held telephones while driving begins Oct. 1.
Under the law, police may cite a driver for illegal use of a hand-held phone only if they first pull the driver over for a primary violation, such as speeding or negligent driving.
The use of a hand-held telephone to call for emergency service, or by police, fire and rescue personnel on duty is exempt from the ban. The law also allows drivers to use a hand to turn a phone on or off and to begin or end a conversation.
The offense carries fines of $40 for violating the ban once and $100 for each violation thereafter. Each offense puts at least one point against the driver's license, three points for each offense that contributes to a crash.
The law does not apply to the use of devices that allow drivers to talk on the phone without using their hands.
Montgomery County police probably will issue warnings for a few days until drivers get used to the ban, which is already the law in neighboring Washington, D.C.
"Generally when new legislation is enacted we give a grace period, 30 days or so, then turn the page and start actual enforcement," said Cpl. Dan Friz, a Montgomery County police spokesman.
Maryland State police mentioned no grace period and might be less forgiving.
"Certainly if we see someone violating the rules of the road with a cell phone in their hands, they may be issued a violation for use of the hand-held [phone] as well," said Elena Russo, a state police spokeswoman.
With the ban looming, sales staff at several stores in Montgomery County that sell mobile phones said this week that hands-free phone devices have been selling a bit more quickly than usual.
The options range from dashboard mounts that enable the driver to talk without holding the phone which usually cost less than $40 to headsets, earbuds and devices that work through car radios or through add-on speakers that can cost up to about $130, according to sales staff at local stores.
Although some studies indicate that hands-free phones may be beneficial, several studies indicate that conversing hands-free can be just as distracting.
"Our studies and a number of studies show that it really doesn't make any difference what you use, whether hands-free or a hand-held device, the accident rates are about the same," said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which advocates not using phones at all while driving.
Sen. Rona E. Kramer opposed the ban, contending that there is no evidence that drivers are safer using a hands-free device. She also cited studies that show no reduction in accidents in locations in which hand-held phone bans have been enacted.
"Common sense would dictate that holding your hand to your ear would not make you unsafe," Kramer (D-Dist. 14), of Olney, said.
Kramer said the law could push constituents to spend money on a device without evidence that the device would make them safer.
Townsend said that if drivers pull over and park on the shoulder of the road to make calls on hand-held phones, they could create a new safety hazard.
Maryland joins seven states, the District and the Virgin Islands in prohibiting drivers from using hand-held phones while driving. In all except Maryland, police can stop a motorist solely for using a hand-held phone.
Signs notifying motorists of the new law are being posted at state lines, near colleges and high schools and in high visibility locations along roadways, said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration. Reminders will be posted on electronic signs over major highways, Buck said.