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Effective Oct 1, 2011, sending and reading text message behind the wheel is now a primary offense, in both Maryland and D.C.  Previously, it meant that police had to have another reason (primary), other than texting, in order to pull a driver over and cite them.  With the new law, texting is now a primary offense, meaning that a police officer can pull a driver over for sending and reading text messages without any other reason.  If you live in the metro area, texting behind the wheel is a primary offense in Maryland and D.C, like 30 other states, and remains a secondary offense in Virginia.

Additionally, the new law allows for cited drivers to be fined $70 and receive one point toward suspension of a driver’s license.   The fine can be as high as $110 and three points, if driver causes an accident.   Drivers can be exempted from prosecution if they are using a Global Positioning System function in their mobile device or are sending a text message to the 911 emergency services.

This new law is among other new traffic laws that are intended to allow criminal prosecution of drivers who negligence causes death in bicyclists, pedestrians and others, and others.  For example, under the new law, it is now a misdemeanor for a driver to cause the death of another while operating a vehicle in a negligent manner, whereas before, driver would only face fines and weren’t required to appear in court.

So what does the new law mean for you?  It means that although you may have already known that it was illegal to text and drive, the new law takes a tougher stand and as explained, it means that you can now be pulled over just for texting, and the consequences are more severe.   Additionally, the new law now prohibits reading text messages, so even if you had been more serious about not sending text messages while driving, also remember that reading text messages is also illegal.  The new law also applies to drivers stopped at a traffic light and a stop sign, another new addition to the law.   The law prohibits drivers under 18, with a leaner’s permit or intermediate license, to use cell phones.   The law does include the two exceptions, for drivers who are using GPS or contacting 911, but proving that to be the case may be difficult.

Bottom line, texting while operating a vehicle is not just “wrong” as deemed by media campaigns, but in Maryland and D.C, it’s illegal and you can face serious consequences, including criminal prosecution in violating the law.

By Amelia Diaz

Paralegal

For questions, you may contact Peter Casciano, Esq., at 301-563-6685