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Lawmakers: Using Handheld Cell Phone While Driving Should Be Primary Offense

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is already against the law in Maryland. But the punishment for doing it could get a lot tougher if some lawmakers get their way.

Derek Valcourt explains.

Despite new distracted driving laws, it's still not hard to find drivers texting or yapping away on their handheld cell phones.

The difference is, if a police officer spots you texting while driving, he can pull you over for it. But under Maryland law, if he sees you talking on a handheld phone, he can't pull you over unless you do something else wrong--like speeding.

"But in my opinion I think we did it backwards. We should have gotten rid of the cell phones first," said Del. James Malone.

Delegate Jim Malone is leading the charge to pass a bill that makes using handheld cell phones while driving a primary offense, just like texting.

If officers see you with a phone to your ear, they could pull you over.

"You cannot be on your phone at any time, whether you are stopped at a red light or actually physically driving."

In addition to changing it from a secondary offense to a primary offense, the bill also ups the handheld phone punishment--from fines as low as $40 to as high as $500--and getting caught could add points to your license.

That's why AAA Mid-Atlantic supports it.

"We think that goes a long way toward motivating motorists to change their habits when it comes to handheld cell phone use while driving," said Christine Delise, AAA.

In Maryland alone between 2007-2011, 152,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents. About 1,100 were killed.

Nearly two-thirds of drivers say they talked on a handheld cell phone while driving in the last month, and one in three do it on a regular basis.

The bill's fate is now in the hands of Maryland's Senate. A similar bill did not pass last year.

Handheld cell phone use while driving is illegal and a primary offense in nine other states and the District of Columbia.

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