WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 30, 2010) -- Beginning Oct. 1, Maryland will join Washington, D.C. in a quest to cut down on distracted driving, making it a violation to use a cell phone without a hands-free device while operating a vehicle.

Authorities said they hope the new law will make roadways safer in Maryland, where 380 deaths have been attributed to distracted driving in the past five years. Nationwide, the National Safety Council reports talking or texting is responsible for 1.6 million crashes annually.

Maryland banned texting while driving in 2009.

Dozens of new road signs that read "State law: No texting, No hand-held cell phone," will be posted along the state's highways beginning Friday to inform out-of-state drivers of the change.

And while the law is a secondary offense, meaning drivers would have to be violating another traffic law in order to be cited, Maryland State Police hope law-abiding citizens will follow the new rule each time they get behind the wheel.

"The superintendent is hoping everyone will comply, but he doesn't want people to wait until Friday to start -- he wants them to start right away," said Elena Russo, spokesperson for the Maryland State Police.

Russo said distracted driving is the primary reason for crashes in Maryland, giving the example of a young man who crashed his car into a pole in August after reaching for a dropped cell phone.

Russo noted that while police officers can't pull a driver over simply for talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device, she said they won't hesitate to stop any driver displaying dangerous behavior.

She added that all troopers have been asked to follow the law whether on or off duty, as an example to other drivers.

Fort Meade Deputy Police Chief Byron J. Frank explained that for Soldiers reporting for duty on the installation, using a hands-free device while driving should already be the norm.

All Department of Defense installations have banned the practice since 2005.

"You shouldn't be driving and texting or talking without a hands-free device, period," Frank said.

He added that the law is common sense, and all drivers should be aware of their state's road rules.

Violators of the law will be slapped with $40 for first-time offenses, and $100 for repeat incidents. Exemptions include calls to 911 or other emergency services.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16