Distracted Driving in Maryland


Most of us need a motor vehicle to get to work and school. And we often treat our cars as an extension of our family home. It’s no wonder then we try to multi-task in our cars, the same way we multi-task at work and at home. Big mistake.

In 2008 the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) blamed inattentive drivers for 24,769 crashes. These crashes caused injuries to 11,578 people and 34 deaths. Talking on cell phones, texting, or surfing the Internet on our smartphones all top the list of driver distractions, and teens text the most. According to the Pew Research Center, young adults between the age of 18 and 24 receive an average of 110 text messages a day.

As of October 2010, Maryland law prohibits the use of hand-held cell phones while driving a motor vehicle on a street or highway. It was already against the law for drivers under 18 to use cell phones at all while driving. That last line bears repeating: Teens are NOT allowed to drive and text or talk on cell phones while behind the wheel of a car.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) driver inattention within the three seconds preceding a crash is involved in 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near crashes. Last December, NHTSA urged lawmakers in all states to ban drivers from using electronic devices while driving.

While there isn’t a formal ban yet, the Maryland SHA appears to agree. It strongly advises against engaging in hand-held and hands-free cell phone conversations while driving. Simulator studies from the University of Utah show that as far as our brains are concerned, there is no difference between hand-held and hands-free devices.

Here are some tips from the Maryland SHA on how to avoid distracted driving:

• If you’re driving with kids, provide them with something (books, travel games, etc.) to distract them, so they don’t distract you.

• If you have a teen who loves to text, establish strict rules with appropriate sanctions regarding texting while driving.

• If you’re expecting a call or absolutely have to talk while on the road, pull over.

• Increase the distance between you and the car directly in front of you. Strive for a following distance of four seconds. This gives you greater visibility and more time to react if anything happens.

• Don’t wait until you start driving to map out your route. Think it through ahead of time. Read any directions thoroughly before turning the key, or plug your destination into a turn-by-turn navigation system (such as a dashboard-mounted Global Positioning System) before you hit the road.

• Pre-set a driving playlist to provide continuous tunes over the car’s speakers while you’re driving—no adjustments necessary. Never wear headphones while driving.

• If you call someone, make it a practice to ask if they’re driving. If they are, tell them you’ll call back later. Or ask them to call you after they’ve reached their destination.

• Never text and drive. Ever.

• Wear seat belts.

For more information visit NHTSA’s website at distraction.gov. To learn about Maryland SHA’s Save a Life safety program, go to sha.maryland.gov.