- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

An effort to ban text messaging while driving overcame a minor speed bump Friday as the Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval to the ban after delaying debate on the issue for two straight days.

“We’re trying to prevent accidents, to prevent injuries and deaths,” said Sen. Norman R. Stone, Baltimore County Democrat, and a sponsor of the bill.

The legislation would create a $500 fine for those who write, send or read text messages while driving “in motion or in the travel portion of the roadway.”

If passed, the bill would make Maryland the ninth state to create a full ban on text messaging while driving. The state currently forbids texting by drivers younger than 18.

The Senate was set to give the preliminary approval Wednesday so that it could be considered for a final vote, but decided to wait until Friday morning to allow for amendments by lawmakers who said the bill gives too much discretion to police officers.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, wanted to change the bill so that officers could only give a warning instead of a ticket.

“I think that’s deterrent enough for a lot of people,” said Mr. Harris, whose amendment failed 13-34.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat, also failed in his effort to change the bill so that drivers could only be charged for texting if they are pulled over for another offense.

“Everybody agrees that text messaging is a terrible idea while you’re on the road, but do we want put police officers in the position of having to pull people over for text messaging alone? And quite frankly how would you know” if they are texting or making a call, Mr. Zirkin said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick Republican, said police shouldn’t have to be burdened by giving tickets for texting.

“I think police have real crimes and frankly better things to do than having to pull people over for texting as a primary offense,” Mr. Mooney said.

The Senate is set to make a final vote on the bill next week.

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