Maryland Cell Phone and Seatbelt Law Updates Effective October 1, 2013
I spent a good deal of my childhood vacations sitting with my brother and cousins sans seatbelt in the way way backseat of my parent’s Volvo station wagon or the way way back in my uncle’s simulated wood-paneled Mercury Grand Marquis Colony Park (commonly known as the Woodie).
Playing cards or taunting drivers who faced the wrath of crayon-scribbled signs, drawings, and jokes authored by my cousins, brother, and me, while sitting in traffic or on a long car ride to Toronto or Lexington, Kentucky, are experiences few children of the new millennium will understand (Mercury discontinued the Colony Park in 1992). Causing trouble together in the way way back was something we reveled in until we were too big to fit in the way way back together. The charms of sitting in the way way back and seatbelt-free zone disappeared when my cousin Chat and I, the oldest, graduated our antics to the backseat, or fought over who got to sit in the front. Seatbelts were then, of course, expected.
Thinking back, I realized our parents probably enjoyed the relief and distance from our constant chatter, particularly once we were old enough to care what was playing on the radio; so, letting us ride seatbelt free in the way way back was to everyone’s benefit.
Only now am I surprised to learn that new a Maryland law redefines the age at which an adult sitting in the backseat is required to be secured by a seatbelt. This law will also make back-seat seatbelt use for adults enforceable as a mere secondary violation for adults.
Maryland has been a primary front-seat seatbelt enforcing state since 1986 for passengers over 16 years of age. Effective October 1, 2013, Maryland law will expand the age of adult passengers required to be secured by a seatbelt while seated in any position in a car to as young as 16 years old. This means that everyone riding in a car will have to be secured with a seatbelt.
This is surprising, since seatbelt use seems to be common sense. Still, under the new law, violation of the seatbelt law for passengers seated in the back seat will be a secondary violation, meaning it will be enforceable only when the driver is detained for a suspected violation of another law.
Under the same law, passed by the General Assembly as SB 87 (2013) and signed into law on May 2, 2013 as Chapter 197), penalties associated with violations of the seat belt (and child safety seat) laws increase from $25 to $50. The bill also removes the “floater exemption” that allowed a driver to transport more children in a vehicle than the number of proper securing locations.
In addition, new Maryland law passed as HB753/ SB 339 prohibits all drivers from using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving effective October 1, 2013. The exceptions are for calls placed to 911, hospitals, ambulances, fire and other emergency first responder and law enforcement agencies. Certain emergency first responders and law enforcement officers are exempt from using a hands-free device if they place a call while driving and within in the scope of their official duties.
Maryland joins 11 other states and D.C. by changing enforcement of the hands-free cell phone use law to a primary violation this October 1, meaning drivers need not be detained for another violation in order to be cited. Fines for first time offenders increase to not more than $75; second offenses carry a fine of not more than $125; third and subsequent offenses carry a fine of not greater than $175. Drivers cannot be fined points for the violation unless use of a cell phone while driving contributes to an accident.
While Maryland need not be applauded for these sensible updates to the Transportation Article, this is as good an occasion as any to remind everyone about driving hands-free while on your cell phone and about seatbelt safety, no matter where you or others are seated in the car. Buckle up out there and drive safe.
* * *
Puja Gupta is an associate in the Litigation group at Joseph Greenwald & Laake, P.A. She focuses on all aspects of civil ligation, including employment litigation, commercial and business litigation, constitution law and civil rights cases, administrative law, and appeals. You can find her on LinkedIn or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org