(WUSA9) -- Keep your eyes on the road and your hands off the cell phone, say Maryland officials. A new cell phone law goes into effect on October 1, making it a primary offense to be holding your phone and driving. That means police officers will be able to pull drivers over just for talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device.
Right now, only 12 states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit drivers from using hand-held phones. Maryland will join that group in October. Texting while driving is already a primary offense in the state.
Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger talked to us last week about the new law and enforcement. "If a police officer sees you talking on the phone, you can get stopped and cited for talking on a cell phone. It is just not safe. If you look at probably the number one cause of distractions now, in driving that is it," said Manger.
He noted a few exceptions: "If you are dialing 911, making an emergency call, there [are] exceptions for public safety personnel. You have somebody driving an ambulance, they want to call the hospital to talk with doctors, patients on the way to the hospital, police officers, there is an exception for them if they are talking about, you know, police issues."
*see a breakdown of the fines below
There is also a new seat belt law. Manger explained, "Prior to October 1, folks that were sitting in the back seat, if you were over the age of 16, you weren't required to wear a seat belt. Now you are. Everybody in the car has to be belted. OIf course, for young kids they have to be belted in a child safety seat, but it changes for adults. Everyone in the car, sitting in the back seat or not, you have to have your seat belt on."
Additionally, there is a new panhandling initiative.
"We have more and more folks panhandling. I'm talking about the folks in the median strips, walking through lanes of traffic, asking for money. It is just not safe. We actually had, this year, a woman who was panhandling that was hit by a car and killed so we are, the county is, putting forth an initiative. We want to help these folks but the way to help them is not giving them money. Don't give them money. You can go to Montgomery County's website, click on panhandling, there is a whole bunch of things you can do to help these folks, things you can help these folks," said Manger.
*Changes to Maryland Traffic Law Cell Phones and Seatbelts
Effective Oct. 1:
Driver using hands to use handheld telephone while motor vehicle is in motion will be a primary traffic offense:
- 1st Offense is an $83.00 FINE, including court costs
- 2nd Offense is a $140.00 FINE
- 3rd and Subsequent Offense is a $160.00 FINE
If the violation contributed to an accident, THREE (3) POINTS will also be assessed in addition to the fine.
Driver using hands to use handheld telephone while operating a commercial motor vehicle, first offense is a $290.00 fine and also a primary traffic offense.
The following violations are now $83.00 fines:
- Failing to secure a child under age of 8 in a child safety seat when transporting in a motor vehicle.
- Failing to transport a child under age of 16 in (child safety seat per instructions, seatbelt).
- Using a (child safety seat, seatbelt) to (restrain, seat, position) more than one individual.
- Operating a motor vehicle with (operator, occupant under age 16) not restrained by (seatbelt, child safety seat).
- Passenger age 16 or more in outboard front seat of motor vehicle without seatbelt restraint. Example of an "outboard front seat" is a front passenger seat next to a door.
New Secondary traffic offense:
Passenger age 16 or more in rear seat of motor vehicle without seatbelt restraint. The fine is $83.00, including court costs.