LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — Maryland will soon be among the U.S. states that prohibit handheld cell phone use while driving.
Since 2010, using a cell phone without a hands-free device while operating a vehicle has been a secondary offense in Maryland. On Oct. 1, it will become a primary offense, meaning an officer can cite a driver for it without any other traffic violation taking place.
The fine for a first-time violator will be $75 and will increase with each subsequent offense. No points will be assessed to a driver’s license unless the violation contributes to a crash, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Because talking on a handheld cell phone is being upgraded to a primary offense, AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts that the number of tickets issued for it will skyrocket.
“Basically there’s always a period in which the public needs to be educated,” says Sgt. Marc Black, spokesman for Maryland State Police.
Maryland police officers issued 7,894 citations to drivers using handheld cell phones in 2011, the last full year for which information is available.
“There are a lot of crashes that occur due to lack of attention,” Black says.
AAA says approximately 58 percent of Maryland’s 89,655 vehicle crashes in 2012 involved a distracted driver, and about 48 percent of the estimated 511 total fatalities on the state’s roads in 2012 were due to a distracted driver.
Black says there are a few exceptions to the law. Drivers can still use their phones if they are calling 9-1-1, or if their vehicle is not in motion.
Currently, 12 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all prohibit drivers of all ages from using handheld phones while driving. Texting while driving is banned for drivers in 41 states, including Maryland, and D.C.