- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — The state Senate gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bill that would ban talking on a cell phone while driving.

The bill also would prohibit text messaging while driving and would consider the violation a secondary offense — meaning police could not pull over drivers only for talking on cell phones. The bill, which has failed for years in the Maryland legislature, would expire in two years unless renewed by lawmakers.

The bill was revived when senators revoked an amendment approved last week to remove a ban on talking, leaving just a text-messaging ban. The amendment was approved by one vote, but some senators said they didn’t understand it and wanted another attempt.

Senators this time decided not to remove the prohibition on hand-held phones.

After voting to reject that amendment, the Senate forwarded the bill to a final vote, expected by the end of the week.

If approved, the bill would be the first to clear the state Senate. It is not clear whether the House will agree to the ban if approved by the Senate.

“It’s an important debate we have going on here,” said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat whose committee has twice rejected the texting-while-driving ban this year. Mrs. McIntosh said it’s too soon to tell whether the Senate bill will succeed in the House.

She supports the idea but said: “There has not traditionally been support in my committee.”

The bill was revised to win wider support. In addition to the expiration date, the senators approved an amendment allowing judges to waive fines for drivers who can prove they bought hands-free accessories after receiving a citation.

The Senate rejected an amendment to ban the use of Global Positioning System devices and another to exempt the Eastern Shore counties.

“I think we’ve got a fair shot. I really do,” said Sen. Michael G. Lennett, Montgomery Democrat and bill supporter. “It’s just one of those bills, like the seat-belt law, that just takes time.”

Senators cited the ban’s success in the District and said it will be enough to get drivers off the phone.

“In [the District] we know that driving on a cell phone will get you a ticket, and people have stopped doing it,” said Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat.

AAA Mid-Atlantic has not taken a position on whether hand-held cell-phone use should be banned but favors a text-message ban.

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