State launches cam­paign aimed at end­ing dis­tracted driv­ing

Driv­ers told ‘It can wait’

Cecil Whig - - & - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— Driv­ers trav­el­ing through Ce­cil County on In­ter­state 95 will find a des­ig­nated area at the Ch­e­sa­peake House Rest Stop where use of a cell­phone is en­cour­aged.

Mary­land’s De­part­ment of Transportation, Transportation Au­thor­ity Po­lice and Mary­land State Po­lice along with AT&T and AAA Mid-At­lantic have joined forces to present the “It Can Wait” cam­paign, launched Thurs­day at the Mary­land House Rest Stop.

The first of 26 signs in the statewide cam­paign were erected Thurs­day at the rest stops near North East and Aberdeen.

The goal is to end all dis­tracted driv­ing, but specif­i­cally what these agen­cies say is a grow­ing prob­lem with driv­ers tex­ting or mak­ing other use of cell­phones while at the wheel.

Those signs mark off ar­eas where driv­ers are wel­come to get out of travel lanes and check on missed mes­sages and phone calls. It’s an ef­fort to keep them from do­ing so while the ve­hi­cle is in mo­tion.

“Park your phone,” said Lt. Col. An­thony Satchell, chief of the MSP Field Oper­a­tions Di­vi­sion. “I don’t think a cell­phone is more im­por­tant than a life.”

Speak­ing on be­half of law en­force­ment, Satchell talked about one of the hard­est things a po­lice of­fi­cer faces.

“It’s heart-wrench­ing thing when we have to come to your door and tell you your kid is dead,” Satchell said.

Christine Nizer, ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said April has been des­ig­nated as Dis­tracted Driv­ing Month.

“Which is why we’re rolling out these new signs (re­mind­ing driv­ers) no tex­ting, no hand­held cell­phones,” Nizer said. “Stop here and make your cell­phone calls, send your texts.”

Nizer said 230 peo­ple in Mary­land died last year be­cause of dis­tracted driv­ing. Driver dis­trac­tion is the cause of nearly 60 per­cent of ac­ci­dents in the state, nearly half of which re­sult in a fa­tal­ity.

Rag­ina C. Averella, man­ager of pub­lic and gov­ern­ment af­fairs for AAA Mid-At­lantic, said a re­cent sur­vey showed at de­spite of the known threat, peo­ple still take the chance.

“Forty-two per­cent of sur­vey re­spon­dents in­di­cated that dis­tracted driv­ing was their most im­por­tant traf­fic safety con­cern in 2016,” she said.

“We have to make our roads safe for every­body,” added De­nis P. Dunn, state pres­i­dent of ex­ter­nal and leg­isla­tive af­fairs for AT&T.

Dunn said it is still con­sid­ered a priv­i­lege to “drive a ton of steel 45, 55, 65 mph. If you take your eye off the task, you risk your life and the life of your pas­sen­gers,” he said.

He said 70 per­cent of driv­ers polled ad­mit they still text and drive.

Cur­rently, a driver tick­eted for dis­tracted driv­ing can be fined as much as $160 and get points on his li­cense, Nizer said. How­ever, pend­ing legislation be­fore the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly could make the penalty stiffer, she said.

Driv­ers caus­ing a crash while us­ing a cell­phone could spend a year in jail and pay fines up to $5,000.

ABERDEEN

Satchell said of­fi­cers have seen driv­ers en­gag­ing in all sorts of ac­tiv­i­ties when pi­lot­ing more than a ton of steel should have been job one.

“Un­for­tu­nately we are in a day and age where every­one has to multi-task,” he said. “This puts every­one at risk.”

Ch­eryl Sparks, MDTA com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, got into a sim­u­la­tor to see for her­self the dan­gers of tex­ting while at the wheel.

“Clearly it was a dis­trac­tion,” she said. “I was swerv­ing off the road in the sim­u­la­tor and there are cars com­ing at you like you’re driv­ing down the road.”

Sparks said it proved to her that a ve­hi­cle can travel the length of sev­eral foot­ball fields while its driver stares at a cell­phone screen.

“When you put it in the con­text of putting your kids’ lives at risk ... it’s not about you,” she added.

Satchell said par­ents need to take the lead by ex­am­ple, as their chil­dren be­come driv­ers, to make it a clear rule.

“Tell your kids to turn that phone off,” he said.

At the very least, Nizer urged driv­ers to use a tool many phones have pre­in­stalled that an­swers the phone for you as you drive, or look into the many free apps avail­able that ac­com­plish the same.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Rag­ina C. Averella, man­ager of pub­lic and gov­ern­ment af­fairs for AAA Mid-At­lantic, said more than half the crashes in the state can be blamed on dis­tracted driv­ing and, of those, half are fa­tal.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Ch­eryl Sparks, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Mary­land Transportation Au­thor­ity, tries to text and drive in a sim­u­la­tor parked at the Mary­land House near Aberdeen Thurs­day.

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