Park your phone
Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn kicked off Distracted Driving Awareness Month earlier this month with a piece of advice that could save hundreds of lives each year across the state: “Park your phone before you drive.”
“It’s critical that drivers pay full attention behind the wheel,” said Rahn. “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. Potentially deadly distractions include tending to children, shaving, putting on makeup and reading, but using cell phones or other electronic devices is especially distracting.
Researcher David Strayer of the University of Utah found that talking on a cell phone quadruples your risk of an accident, about the same as if you were driving drunk. That risk doubles again, to eight times normal, if you are texting.
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.
Nationally, in 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.
“Texting or using your phone while driving is extremely dangerous. You’re up to 23 times more likely to crash, putting lives in jeopardy,” said Christine Nizer, MDOT Motor Vehicle Administrator and Governor Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative. “Put your phone away, and make sure you stay focused.”
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 cell phone are $83 for the first offense, $140 for the second offense, and $160 for the third offense.
In Maryland, under Jake’s Law, any driver who causes serious injury or death while using a handheld cell phone or texting may receive a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to $5,000.
MDTA Police Chief Col. Jerry Jones issued this warning to motorists: “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.”
So, park your phone. The life you save may be your own.