- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — State lawmakers rejected a bill to fine drivers $500 for reading, writing or sending text messages by phone or personal digital assistant while operating a car.

Though Maryland has no ban on talking on phones while driving, sponsors said “texting” is even more dangerous and should be banned.

Opponents of the bill questioned whether texting is a distraction so unique that it needs its own ban. The Environmental Matters Committee vote was announced yesterday .

“It’s just a distraction, and there are a lot of other distractions that are as bad as texting,” said Delegate Richard A. Sossi, an Eastern Shore Republican on the committee who rejected the bill.

The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Frank S. Turner, Howard Democrat, said texting is different because “you have to take both your hands and eyes off the road.”

“You can talk on the phone and look at the road,” he said. “You can’t text message and look at the road.”

Text-message bans have been approved in New Jersey, Phoenix and Washington state, and the proposal had the support of AAA.

Other critics of a ban said texting while driving is sometimes necessary.

“The argument against the bill was that traffic is so bad that people in D.C. spend so much time sitting in traffic they do a lot of business on their” digital devices, said Delegate H. Wayne Norman Jr., Harford Republican. “If you’re texting while driving 65 miles per hour and cause an accident, clearly that’s negligent driving, and that’s already against the law.”

Supporters of a ban are hoping for passage of a similar proposal, a House bill due for a public hearing next week. Lawmakers also are considering a bill to ban texting while driving for young drivers.

“Maryland has been extremely reticent to ban cell-phone use generally,” said Delegate Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher, a Montgomery Democrat who is sponsoring the second text-message bill. He said politicians have opposed blanket distracted-driving bills but should look at his ban, which, unlike Mr. Turner’s, would exempt drivers texting in emergencies.

AAA has called for a texting ban and said it would renew lobbying efforts to get some other ban passed. AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella said surveys by wireless phone service companies show that texting increased 985 percent from 2005 to 2006.

“Text messaging is one of the most dangerous of distracted driving behaviors, and we certainly hope lawmakers would want to do things to keep Maryland drivers safe,” Miss Averella said.

Even lawmakers who voted against the ban anticipate the issue will persist.

“It’s clearly an unsafe practice, and though we voted unfavorable, it’s something we will have to consider,” said Delegate Doyle L. Niemann, Prince George’s Democrat, another member of the committee that rejected the texting ban.

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