Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger today was joined by other local law enforcement leaders in presenting a strong and unified message of support for new tougher traffic laws regulating the use of handheld cell phones while driving and the increased use of vehicle seat belts.
Those law enforcement leaders included: Sheriff Darren Popkin, Rockville City Police Chief Terry Treschuk, Gaithersburg Police Chief Mark Sroka, Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg, Chevy Chase Village Police Chief John Fitzgerald, Maryland National Capital Park Police Chief Antonio DeVaul and Maryland State Police Acting Rockville Barrack Commander Daniel Pickett.
Although County Executive Ike Leggett could not attend the press event, he endorsed an extensive County public education effort to inform residents about the new laws. “One of my top priorities is safe streets and secure communities,” said Leggett. “People need to understand and accept that it is critically important to give their full attention to driving and to make sure that every driver and passenger buckles up every time they are in a moving vehicle.”
“Today is the last day that anyone in the State of Maryland should expect that they can get away with talking on their handheld cell phone while driving, or riding in a vehicle without being buckled up,” said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger. “For cell phone use while driving, our united law enforcement message is clear -Hang Up or Hands Free, It’s Maryland Law.”
The chiefs were joined by the Chairperson of the Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee, Phil Andrews; State Senator (District 17) Jennie Forehand and Manager of Public Affairs of AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Washington Office, John Townsend.
“Distracted driving can be deadly,” said Council member Andrews. “Don’t become a statistic.”
A law banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving went into effect in 2010. However, that law made the violation a secondary offense. Officers couldn’t stop a driver until another traffic violation was committed. With the new law, the violation becomes a primary offense. Officers can make a traffic stop for the sole offense of using a handheld cell phone while driving.
The law does not apply to law enforcement and emergency personnel when they are acting within the scope of their safety and emergency duties.
Emergency cell phone calls to 9-1-1 and to other locations such as hospitals and fire stations in emergency situations may still be made with a handheld cell phone while driving.
The new law allows cell phone use with a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth.
State Senator Jennie Forehand was the originator of the legislation that resulted in making the use of seat belts mandatory for passengers 16 and older who are riding in the rear seat of a vehicle.
With this new seat belt law, every passenger in a motor vehicle must use either a seat belt or child restraint system. Previously, back-seat passengers ages 16 and older did not have to use a seat belt, and there was no restriction as to the number of passengers carried in a vehicle. Now, there can only be the same number of passengers as there are seat belts in a vehicle. No more than one person can be buckled up in a single seat belt.
There will not be a warning period for the enforcement of these new laws. Officers in Montgomery County and throughout the State of Maryland will begin active enforcement on Tuesday, October 1.
The original fines publicized for the offense of handheld cell phone use while driving were recently changed by the authority of the Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland. The citations fines are: $83 for the first offense, $140 for the second offense and $160 for the third and subsequent offenses. Points will be assessed only if the violation contributes to a collision.
The fine for non-compliance with the seat belt law was also changed to $83.
The law prohibiting texting while driving went into effect in 2009.
The Maryland Highway Safety Office has issued the following recommendations: “Park Your Phone, Before You Drive”, manage your time so that you don’t need to talk on your cell phone while driving, drive defensively and ride responsibly. If you are a passenger in a vehicle and a driver is using a handheld cell phone, ask the driver to pull over or wait until you arrive at the destination.
More information about both of these laws can be found at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/newtrafficlaws. An informational flyer can also be downloaded from that link. A new TV public service announcement featuring the Montgomery County Police Chiefs and Sheriff can be found at http://youtu.be/H_NDMm7Jc1g.
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