Thousands of Md. drivers ticketed for phone use

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BALTIMORE (AP)—Maryland police agencies have issued thousands of tickets to drivers for using hand-held cellphones behind the wheel in the year since a ban took effect.

Records from more than 70 police agencies in the state that participate in the Electronic Traffic Information Exchange show 4,021 warnings and 5,227 citations have been issued to drivers who failed to use a hands-free device since the ban went into effect in October 2010. More than half of those warnings and citations were issued by state troopers.

Drivers can be fined $40 for their first violations and $100 for subsequent ones. However, it is a secondary offense, meaning drivers can only be pulled over for another offense, such as running a red light.

“I think it is working pretty well,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County. “It has certainly made people more aware of the safety issues involved.”

Data show that 587 warnings and 379 citations have been issued for texting while driving since 2009. Writing and sending text messages was already barred, but starting Saturday it will be illegal to read texts behind the wheel, too. The violation will also become a primary offense, meaning officers can stop drivers for violating the ban.

A first offense of reading or sending a text while behind the wheel carries a fine of $70. A second-offense fine will be $110.

“We have seen dramatic declines in traffic fatalities in Maryland in recent years and we want that trend to continue,” said Col. Marcus Brown, the Maryland State Police superintendent. “That is why police officers across Maryland are working hard with state and local agencies to inform and educate our citizens about the dangers of texting and cell phone use while driving. We know these activities can be major distractions to drivers and can have deadly consequences.”

The law won’’t apply to texting 9-1-1 or using a global positioning system.

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