Md. lawmaker wants heftier fines for using cellphones while driving

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – In Maryland, drivers caught using a cellphone behind the wheel can pay fines of anywhere from $75 to $175 in a tiered system.

But a Maryland lawmaker says the $175 maximum isn’t cutting it when it comes to getting drivers to keep their hands off their cellphones while driving.

Del. Frank Turner is proposing a repeal of the tiered system in favor of a penalty that could go as high as $500. At a hearing before the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee this week, Turner said people have not gotten the message. “I see it all the time as I drive down the street — people are using their cellphones.”

Turner said the data tells the story: Last year, more than 41,000 drivers were cited for using a hand held device while driving. In 2014, the number was closer to 38,000 drivers cited. Noting the upward trend, Turner said, “It’s going in the wrong direction.”

There are exemptions for using a phone behind the wheel: when dialing 911, or calling a hospital in an emergency, for example. First-responders are also exempt from the law.

But Turner said it might surprise Marylanders to hear who has been cited for violating the law: 56 tickets were written to school bus drivers for using hand held devices while driving. “I hope this will send the message: Get off the phone while you’re driving,” Turner said.

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