By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun
9:40 PM EDT, September 30, 2011
Glancing at a text message or an e-mail from behind the wheel will cost $500 in fines starting Saturday, when a new law goes into effect clarifying Maryland's muddled driving-while-texting rules.
Until now, drivers were barred from writing text messages while negotiating traffic but permitted to read them.
"Our police are well aware of this law," said state police spokesman Greg Shipley. "They will be immediately enforcing it."
It's bound to be the most noticeable of several hundred new laws that officially go on the books starting Saturday. Other new rules toughen penalties for drunk driving, gun possession and animal abuse.
Maryland drivers also aren't supposed to talk on their cell phones per a year-old law, but doing so is remains a "secondary offense," meaning police can pull over drivers only if they are breaking another rule.
Since the initial ban on texting an driving was put in place two years ago, police in Maryland have issued 587 warnings and 379 traffic citations, according to a database that compiles information from 76 Maryland law enforcement agencies including the state police.
Since the ban on talking on cell phones took effect, the same group of police organizations has issued 4,021 warnings and 5,227 traffic citations.
"When you are driving, your eyes should be on the road," said Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who pushed the bill.
Drivers will still be able to use GPS systems on their phone while driving or text an emergency operator.
Drivers who are ticketed can still choose to accept guilt and pay a $70 fine (plus one point on their license). If the texting leads to an accident, accepting guilt means an automatic $110 fine and three points.
Drivers who contest the tickets and lose in court will be guilty of a misdemeanor and have to pay the full $500.
-- School bus cameras: A local government can authorize police to place monitoring cameras on
school buses to nab drivers who break traffic laws by passing the buses.
Other new laws
Here are some other new Maryland laws that take effect Saturday:
-- Picketing at funerals: Protesters will have to stay at least 500 feet away from funerals. The new law was pushed by Albert Snyder, the father of a slain U.S. soldier. The funeral attracted a handful of publicity seeking church members who held up signs including, "Thank God for dead soldiers."
-- Child neglect: Maryland will join 49 other states in outlawing child neglect. The new crime is to be a misdemeanor offense.
-- Interlocks: A new law will expand the pool of drunken drivers who will be required to use an ignition interlock device.
-- Waste to energy: Burning garbage at a waste-to-energy facility will be considered a renewable source of energy.
-- White pages: Phone companies are no longer required to deliver the White Pages to residential customers every year. Customers can access the white pages online, or request an electronic or print copy free of charge.
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