Back in the day when families typically owned one car (usually a sedan or station wagon the size of Delaware), "distracted driving" meant fiddling with the radio, eating a messy sandwich or yelling at kids in the back seat to settle down. Those rolling activities still fall under the government's definition of distracted driving, along with smoking, putting on makeup and other things that take the driver's eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.
The advent of the cell phone, however, took distracted driving to a new level. These devices that keep us connected and put information at our fingertips have become indispensable. It's disturbing to think our new generation of drivers never knew a time when they didn't have a phone in their car. Once people could text on their cell phones, the problem of distracted driving on our roadways got worse. Some public safety experts believe texting while driving is as much of a hazard as drunk driving. Teens texting while driving is particularly troublesome.
Over the years, states like Maryland have taken measures to pass laws, educate the public, focus on teens and parents, and partner with schools, agencies and other organizations to prevent distracted driving accidents. Maryland is among the 47 states and the District of Columbia to pass specific distracted driving laws.
In 2012, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) surveyed its members to see where states had made gains, and where more needs to be done. Here are a few examples of what Maryland has done to prevent distracted driving accidents:
- In 2008, Maryland added distracted driving to its strategic highway safety plans.
- Maryland has state distracted driver laws on its books. E.g., Text messaging while driving is against the law for all drivers, and using hand-held cell phones was recently made a primary offense. Maryland also bans cell phone use for novices and school bus drivers (see link to related article, below).
- Maryland state crash report forms collect data on cell phone use by vehicle operator, and failure to pay full-time and attention.
- Maryland reports that in the last three years, distracted driving crashes have decreased.
- Maryland has taken steps to educate the public about distracted driving. E.g., The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration partnered with Maryland Shock Trauma to produce a "Get the Message" video. However, the state does not have its own campaign message/tagline.
Under the GHSA survey category of "Major Obstacles in the Area of Distracted Driving," Maryland listed the following: Lack of public support; lack of funding for enforcement; lack of distracted driving data collection; and lack of state-specific research. Maryland also does not work with employers to develop workforce distracted driving policies.
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration estimates that more than 30,000 people in Maryland are injured every year due to distracted driving crashes. Despite recent gains, Maryland still could do more to prevent distracted driving accidents, including crashes caused by texting while driving.
Related Maryland Injury Attorney articles:
Distracted Driving Survey of the States (PDF)
Governors Highway Safety Association July 2013