- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

ANNAPOLIS (AP) A Maryland House of Delegates committee has defeated a proposal for a statewide ban on the use of cell phones while driving.
Delegate John S. Arnick, Baltimore County Democrat, hoped an accident last month on the Capital Beltway that killed five persons would have given his bill more momentum, but the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee struck down for the fourth year in a row a bill banning the use of cell phones while driving.
Mr. Arnick's bill would have required motorists to use hands-free devices when talking on the phone while driving.
"I think [the committee] was wrong, particularly this week when we passed a bill that said it is a terrible distraction if someone in the back seat is drinking a beer," Mr. Arnick said, referring to a bill passed by the House that would ban open containers of alcohol in moving vehicles.
"Yet you can hold the phone with one hand or take both hands off the wheel and drive?" Mr. Arnick asked.
Several other states, as well as Congress, are considering similar laws. Starting in November, New York banned the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving.
In February, a Virginia woman in a sport utility vehicle and four Canadians were killed when the SUV jumped the guardrail and landed on a minivan going the opposite direction.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident to determine if the woman's use of a cell phone played a role in the accident.
Mr. Arnick's bill fell short by just three votes on Friday, which he noted was an improvement over the failures in the previous three attempts.
Delegate James E. Malone Jr., Baltimore County Democrat, said he voted against the bill because police already had the tools they need to target distracted drivers.
"Where do you draw the line?" Mr. Malone asked. "How do you differentiate between cell phones and people putting on makeup or eating or reading a book or everything else people do in a car?"
Cell phone industry analysts reckon there are about 123 million cell phone users in the United States. Sixty percent of their mobile-phone use takes place in their cars, analysts estimate.
Cellular companies and the AAA Mid-Atlantic both opposed Mr. Arnick's bill, arguing that talking on the phone is safer than other potential driver distractions.
A recent study by the University of South Florida found that using a cell phone while driving can increase the risk of accidents by up to 300 percent.


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