Park your phone

Record Observer - - OPINION -

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.

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