Handheld cell phone use while driving in Maryland to become primary offense Oct. 1

File photo: Associated Press

(WJLA) - Maryland's already strict laws regarding cell phone use while driving will get stricter next week, officials say, when having the phone in your hands while driving becomes a primary offense.

Starting on Oct. 1, law enforcement officers in the Free State will have the authority to pull drivers over for talking on a cell phone without using a hands-free device. The offense was previously a secondary offense, requiring officers to pull you over for something else before citing drivers for using their phones improperly.

The stricter enforcement of the law makes Maryland the 12th state, along with the District of Columbia, to ban cell phone use while driving without a hands-free device.

Maryland made text messaging while driving a primary offense in 2011. Virginia took a similar stance on the offense earlier this summer, but talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device is still not a primary offense there.

Drivers will be fined $75 for their first offense, with the penalty increasing with each subsequent citation, officials say.