The proposed ban on handheld cell phones while driving in Maryland has followed an eerily familiar path as some other measures recently approved by the Maryland General Assembly.
The bill essentially expands the current prohibition of hand-held cell phones by drivers under the age of 18 who hold a learner’s permit or provisional license to Marylanders of all ages. The legislation would add Maryland to a growing list of states already with the law on the books including New Jersey and New York. It’s also worth noting Washington, D.C. already has a ban in place.
Legislation prohibiting hand-held cell phones has never gotten close to passing in previous years. Nonetheless, there is robust support for the legislation among some, and we need to remember it took years for slots to be put before voters in the form of a referendum. It also took years for smoking to be outlawed in all public places. Both the slots bill and the smoking prohibition were years in the making, and most in the know felt it was only a matter of time before they were approved. It was a question of when, not if.
Smoking, of course, will be outlawed next week, and the future of slots will be determined in the fall by voters, who we believe will welcome the one-arm bandits. This inevitability seems to surround the case with handheld cell phone bans. If it’s not this year, it will probably happen at some point in the near future.
Our stance has always been to oppose the handheld cell phone prohibition because it’s such an infringement on personal rights. Beyond that violation, we are not convinced it would make the roads any safer. We wonder whether taking the phone out of a driver’s hand in favor of a headset or speakerphone really makes a difference as far as safety. Whether it’s in your hand, attached to your ear or on your console, a distraction is a distraction, and let’s face it people driving a car are often disrupted by a variety of things behind the wheel. In many cases, it has nothing to do with a cell phone. Distractions come in many forms. It could be a crying baby in the backseat, a persistent static on the radio, applying makeup with the aid of the rearview mirror, a dropped cheeseburger or even sneaking a pick of the wrong place at an inopportune time.
The fact is most people behind the wheel do not have their entire attention on the road a majority of time. We are not convinced taking a phone out of all Maryland drivers’ hand solves that recurring problem, but there’s no disputing the fact that people are unaware of their surroundings when they are on the phone. We would argue people are often oblivious and it has nothing to do with holding a cell phone.
Before supporting this bill, which we understand has a good shot at becoming law if it can be approved by the Judicial Proceedings committee, we need to hear a better argument than the redundant distracted driving case. There’s no proof drivers are more attentive while talking on the phone with the latest in bluetooth technology affixed to their cheek than with their hand glued to a Motorola at their ear.