‘Park your phone’ and just drive

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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.

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