Maryland Teen Drivers and Texting While Driving : Do State Laws Need to Go Further to Prevent Distracted Driving Crashes?

Earlier this summer, we wrote about Maryland’s efforts to prevent distracted driving accidents. Cell phone use while driving – including texting while driving – poses a deadly hazard on our nation’s roadways. Teenage drivers, a traditionally hard-to-reach group, are known for engaging in this dangerous practice. Teens have plenty of distractions in the car, especially when driving with multiple passengers. Add electronics to the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Motor vehicle crashes are the number-one cause of death for young Americans ages 15 to 20. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that while teens account for 6 percent of the driving public, they comprise 9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes and 13 percent of drivers involved in police-reported crashes. The traffic safety group Toward Zero Deaths Maryland estimates…

  • Some 30,000 injuries occur every year in Maryland due to distracted-driving crashes
  • In 2012, more than 50,000 distracted driving accidents occurred in Maryland, accounting for more than 58% of all motor vehicle crashes and 46% of all fatal crashes in the state
  • That same year, 76% of drivers killed in Maryland distracted-driving crashes were male, and 36% of drivers were between 21 and 34 years old

So what is Maryland doing to prevent distracted-driving accidents among teens?

  • Maryland bans texting while driving for all drivers. In fact, most states do. The only states where texting while driving is not illegal are Arizona and Montana.
  • Maryland bans all cell phone use for novice drivers under age 18 with a learner or provisional license — as a secondary offense. Using hand-held cell phones while driving is a primary offense for all drivers.
  • The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) driver’s license manual cites numerous examples of what comprises distracted driving. The MVA’s online tutorial quizzes novices on whether texting while driving is illegal or allowed under certain conditions (it is illegal).
  • Distraction & Reaction is a prevention and awareness program presented by Delaware-based SmartDrive, which is partnered with the Maryland Highway Safety Office. The program is offered through a number of high schools on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The curriculum has an online learning component to teach teens about the science of distracted driving. Teens then drive a golf-car like vehicle through a course where they’re presented with distractions such as time constraints, cell phone conversations, texting and too many passengers.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report Distracted & Dangerous notes that parents have an important role to play in getting safe driving messages through to teenagers and preventing motor vehicle accidents. The report notes that some research suggests novice bans on cell phone use and texting may not be as effective when those laws change for adult drivers. Teens are impressionable and tend to mimic their parents’ behavior.

The GHSA report writes “…banning cell phone use and texting by all drivers may provide an opportunity to support the establishment of rules for novice drivers that are modeled by parents.” No cell phone use while driving, at all? It’s a controversial idea, one that people who are attached to their cell phones — and today’s constant digital flow of communication and information — might not like.

More research needs to be done in the area of hands-free cell phone devices, as some safety advocates believe that hands free isn’t risk free. (Currently, Maryland allows talking on cell phones while driving using hands-free devices for adult drivers.) Traffic safety laws in Maryland and around the U.S. continue to evolve, as the technology seems to evolve even faster. One thing is for sure: If it’s new and trendy and portable, our teens will likely have it.

Related Baltimore Injury Lawyer article:

What Is Maryland Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving Accidents.


Toward Zero Deaths Maryland

Distracted Driving Survey of the United States 2013
Governors Highway Safety Association

GHSA: State Distracted Driving Laws Sept. 2014


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