‘Park your phone’ and just drive
Last week, we noted it was Autism Awareness Month. But April also honors another awareness initiative we would all do well to observe — and we’d be a whole lot safer as a community if we observed it all year long.
Distracted Driver Awareness Month aims to get drivers to put away those cellphones and other distractions and devote their full attention to getting from point A to point B, keeping themselves and others safe on our roadways.
Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn kicked off the month with a piece of advice, according to a press release: “Park your phone before you drive.”
“It’s critical that drivers pay full attention behind the wheel,” Rahn said in the release. “Distracted driving is easily prevented, and doing so will save hundreds of lives each year.”
Each year in Maryland, distracted driving plays a role in 185 traffic deaths and more than 27,000 injuries, MDOT reports. Potentially deadly distractions include tending to children, shaving, putting on makeup and reading, but using cellphones or other electronic devices is especially distracting. A typical text takes five seconds to write and send. In five seconds, a car traveling at 55 mph will travel the length of a football field. With your attention off the road, it’s like driving that distance while blindfolded.
“Texting or using your phone while driving is extremely dangerous. You’re up to 23 times more likely to crash, putting lives in jeopardy,” MDOT Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer, the governor’s highway safety representative, said in the press release. “Put your phone away, and make sure you stay focused.”
Maryland drivers can be ticketed for writing, sending or reading a text or electronic message while driving. The fine is $70 and one point on your license and may increase to $110 and three points if use of the device contributes to a crash. Fines for using a handheld cellphone are $83 for the first offense, $140 for the second offense and $160 for the third offense. Under Jake’s Law, any driver who causes serious injury or death while using a handheld cellphone or texting may receive a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to $5,000.
MDOT’s Maryland Transportation Authority Police are playing a vital role in statewide enforcement efforts. Other partners, including the Maryland State Police and numerous local and county agencies, are supporting the “Park the Phone” initiative as well.
MDTA Police Chief Col. Jerry Jones warned motorists in the news release: “We are serious about eliminating distracted driving. If you have a phone in one hand while driving, expect to get a ticket in the other. Lives are on the line.”
The enforcement effort will complement a monthlong statewide media effort. Messages will be broadcast on radio stations and will be seen on social media, websites and billboards. In addition, MDOT will have overhead message signs along major roadways with the following message: “Park the phone before you drive — it can wait.”
But we shouldn’t need an entire month of radio broadcasts and blinking highway signs to remind us to use common sense and be mindful of our safety and that of others on the road. We should honor the practice of putting away the phone year round. Let’s aim to keep Charles crash and roadway fatality stats on the decline and commit to doing our part to avoid a potentially devastating situation. That important call or text will seem far less so in the wake of a life-altering or even deadly accident.
Put away the phone, and just drive.