Stringent Cell Phone Policy Sought After Near Collision

OCEAN CITY – In an ironic twist, a faulty turn by a town employee could lead to restrictions on the usage of cell phones in town vehicles.

City Council President Joe Mitrecic said he was almost struck by a town vehicle while driving in his truck. The unnamed driver was apparently talking on a cell phone, and Mitrecic wants strict rules that lean toward “something beyond reprimand.”

“He had one hand on his cell phone and was punching numbers into the computer with the other, so I’m not really sure who was operating the wheel, but I almost got run off the road and we need to address this head on,” said Mitrecic at the end of Monday’s City Council meeting. “Dennis, we need to do something about this, accidents are going to increase if we don’t. We need to put some teeth to the rules and put some stricter rules that are something beyond reprimand.”

Dare along with other council members agreed that steps should be taken to address the issue, which is becoming a concern in more and more states and municipalities across the country.

Currently, it is illegal to drive while using a handheld cell phone in five states (New York, New Jersey, California, Washington and Conneticut) as well as the District of Columbia, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Though no state has placed a ban on cell phone usage, several states have banned usage on certain segments of their population, such as new drivers and bus drivers.

Seventeen states (including Delaware) and the District of Columbia ban cell phone usage by school bus drivers, but surprisingly, Maryland allows it. Maryland does ban cell phone and text messaging by younger or novice drivers, however.

The United States, when compared to other countries around the world, is one of the few civilized countries that still allow cell phone usage while driving. The United Kingdom, for instance, banned handheld cell phone usage in 2003 and some countries like the Netherlands have fines of up to 2,000 euros or up to 2 weeks in prison.

In Maryland, the idea to ban cell phone usage for drivers has been looming for almost a decade and seems to come up every year in state legislature with little luck. Most recently in January of 2008, Senator Michael G. Lenett attempted to pass a bill that would call for $50 fine if a driver was caught using a handheld cell phone while driving. The bill did not make it past the committee level.