March 3, 2011

Eat, drink and be driving — but don’t read your text messages at the wheel

Print More

The prohibition against reading text messages while driving gained relatively easy passage in the House of Delegates on Thursday. But the proposed new traffic violation continued to be a point of contention in the Senate, where Republicans proposed six amendments that failed to pass before the measure won preliminary approval.

There was little debate in the House as the bill came up for a final vote Thursday morning. Del. Michael Smigiel, R- Cecil County, spoke against the bill, saying it infringed on drivers’ liberties.

Despite Smigiel’s protests, it passed the full House on a vote of 116-22.

In the Senate, Minority Whip E.J. Pipkin, also of Cecil County led the charge, arguing that texting from young drivers is “part of parenting now.” He tells his two teenagers who drive, “when you get there, text me.”

Sen. Allan Kittleman of Howard County withdrew his amendment banning newspaper reading at the wheel in favor of an amendment that specified the new law applied only while the car is moving.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Brochin of Towson makes reading a text message while driving in a travel lane a secondary traffic offense. It is already illegal to send a text message. There were 208 tickets issued in fiscal 2010 for that misdemeanor.

Republicans said that there were many other distractions as serious as texting, such as eating, and drinking. But Brochin said reading a text message is a “cerebral activity” that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for five or six seconds.

Big Mac photo by julianrod on Flickr under Creative Commons license

He resisted all six amendments including one to make the offense a warning and a final Kittleman amendment to make it a violation to eat or drink while driving, which got only six votes in support.

The Senate version of the bill moved onto final passage.

–Megan Poinski and Len Lazarick
Megan@MarylandReporter.com
Len@MarylandReporter.com