New Maryland Cellphone Law

Maryland’s new DWCP (Driving While on Cell Phone) law starts tomorrow. Here are the details:

1. What is Maryland’s Cell Phone Law?
The new Maryland law will prohibit all Maryland drivers from using a cell phone without a hands free device while operating a motor vehicle in motion on a street or highway. So, apparently, you can still get in a quick chat at red lights.

2. Are there exceptions?
Of course. Cell phone calls placed to (and from) 9-1-1, ambulance, hospital, fire, or law enforcement agencies are still permitted. You can still use your cell phone to place the call although that is when a lot of distracted-driver car accidents occur.

3. Will you get pulled over for just talking on a cell phone?
No. This is the part of the law that really lacks teeth much the same way we began with seat belt laws in Maryland many years ago. The new Maryland law makes driving while talking on your cell phone a secondary offense which means you have to get pulled over for something else first.

4. What is the fine for the offense?
The fine for a first offense would be $40 and no points. Subsequent offenses will result in a $100 fine and the imposition of the much feared points. Well, actually one point. If cell phone use is thought to contribute to an accident (a tough call to make, obviously), the at-fault driver can be assessed three points.

5. Is this new Maryland law going to make us safer?
I think so, but maybe for different reasons than the Maryland legislature thinks. There is no doubt that cell phone use is causing auto accidents in massive numbers. Car accident statistics compiled by the federal government are unambiguous. The National Safety Council has estimated that cell phone use is responsible for 1.6 million crashes a year, nationally – about 28 percent of all crashes. Let’s pretend that number is exaggerated twofold. It is still an extraordinary number. But there is also data suggesting that the distraction of the conversation itself is the real problem, not the use of a handheld phone. If that is true – and I’m not sure that it is, but it may be – why would the new law help? I think there may be a Freakanomics type explanation. A by-product of the law will be fewer cell phone calls while driving generally. Given how overwhelming the data is, a decrease in cell phone usage – for whatever reasons – will lead to a decrease in car accidents in Maryland. This will obscure the real problem – driving while distracted – for a while, but it will lead to less car accident deaths in the meantime.