Local Police Find Motorists Complying With Driving Laws

BERLIN – Two months after a new law prohibiting talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving took effect across Maryland, it appears most motorists across Worcester County including Ocean City are getting the message about the ban.

Beginning Oct. 1, it became illegal for a motorist in Worcester County and across Maryland to use a hand-held cell phone while driving. Last year, state lawmakers passed a similar law banning text messaging while driving and a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving was the next logical step. Both are secondary offenses. While there are clearly those who choose to ignore the new laws, most in the area are complying, according to local law enforcement officials this week.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot less people with a phone to their ears while driving,” said Col. Doug Dods of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re seeing more and more people with blue tooth or other hands-free devices. I think people are getting the message. We haven’t had to write too many tickets for this. I think people are realizing just how dangerous it is.”

The new law prohibits all Maryland drivers from using a cell phone without a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle on any street or highway in the state. The new law is a secondary offense, meaning a driver must first be stopped for another offense such as speeding or negligent driving before he or she is ticketed for cell phone use.

Ocean City Police spokesman Pfc. Mike Levy agreed most area residents and visitors to the resort have embraced the new laws regarding hand-held cell phone use while driving.

“I think people got the message,” he said. “It took passing and enacting a law, but people are complying. We’re seeing very little problem with that.”

Levy said talking on a cell phone or text messaging while driving are learned behaviors most weren’t willing to part with until laws were passed against them.

“It’s like another one of those behaviors we know we shouldn’t do, but don’t stop until somebody tells us we can’t,” he said. “We all know we shouldn’t drink too much, or smoke cigarettes, or eat the wrong foods, but we often do it anyway. It’s the same with talking on our phones while driving. We know it’s dangerous and we probably shouldn’t do it, but we’re doing it anyway. The new law has definitely changed awareness and we’re seeing less and less of it.”

Dods said texting is even more dangerous than talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving because it often requires both hands.

“Texting is a little more difficult to detect because we can’t always see what they’re doing with their hands,” he said. “All in all, we haven’t written too many citations for that either and that’s been in a effect much longer.”

In either case, while there is ample evidence many have chosen to disregard the laws regarding cell phone use and driving, most appear to have gotten the point. Dods pointed out the safety issues have as much to do with focus and concentration as they do with keeping one’s hands on the wheel.

“The most important thing is keeping your hands on the wheel and not on your phone,” he said. “The other big concern is the concentration factor. If you’re having a deep conversation on your phone while you’re driving, you’re probably not keeping your eyes on the road and focusing on what you’re doing. If you have to have that conversation that minute, please pull over to a safe place and get off the road.”