TOWSON, MD (Thursday, April 1, 2021) –– As traffic begins to pick up across the country with increased vaccinations and decreased pandemic restrictions, AAA Mid-Atlantic reminds drivers about the importance of focusing on the road ahead and not on their smartphones during National Distracted Driving Awareness month.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving crashes killed 3,142 people in the United States in 2019, an average of nine deaths per day. That number was up 10 percent from the year before (2,839 deaths in 2018).
Locally, more than 26,000 people are injured and an average of 181 others die each year on Maryland roads because of distracted driving involved crashes, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration’s (MDOT MVA) Highway Safety Office. Distracted driving contributes to 48 percent of all crashes in the state.
“In Maryland, we are taking a multifaceted approach to combat distracted driving by educating all road users about the dangers of distracted driving and enforcing the current state laws,” explained MDOT MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer, who also serves as Governor Larry Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative. “We encourage all motorists to ‘be the focused driver’ every time they get behind the wheel and remember that texting, eating or chatting with passengers can wait.”
Distracted driving remains a growing traffic safety problem according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s 2019 Traffic Safety Culture Index. The survey found most drivers (96 percent) believe typing or reading on a hand-held cellphone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous, but 39 percent admit to reading and 29 percent admit to typing on a smartphone at least once while behind the wheel within the last month.
Although using a hand-held device is illegal while driving and while stopped at a red light or stop sign in many states, the survey suggests some drivers do so anyway and aren’t aware of the “hangover effect,” which comes from interacting with technology while on the road. In a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, researchers found drivers can experience a “hangover effect” where the mind stays distracted for up to 27 seconds after using smartphones or voice-to-text vehicle infotainment systems to send text messages, make phone calls or update social media.
“If drivers perform some of these tasks while parked, or stopped at a red light, even after you stop using the technology, your mind is still not fully focused on the task of driving for up to 27 seconds,” said Ragina C. Ali, Public and Government Affairs Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “This is a dangerous situation that could lead to inattention blindness, where you’re looking at the road but not seeing what’s in front of you, putting other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians at risk.”
According to a Maryland State Police press release, all drivers in Maryland are prohibited from using a cellphone without a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle. Maryland law prohibits the use of a handheld cellphone and texting while driving. First-time offenders caught using a cell phone while driving face a maximum of $83 fine, second-time offenders a maximum of $140 fine, and third-time offenders a maximum of $160 fine. These are primary offenses and police officers can stop drivers when those activities are observed, regardless of the presence of other violations. Texting laws prohibit a person from using a text-messaging device to write, send, or read a text or electronic message while operating a motor vehicle.
“Despite having strong laws on the books in Maryland to combat distracted driving, the reckless behavior of many motorists persists,” added Ali. According to the Maryland State Police, troopers issued 16,050 citations and 18,671 warnings for distracted driving violations in 2018.
AAA Mid-Atlantic and the MDOT MVA Highway Safety Office encourage all motorists to eliminate distracted driving by following these tips:
- Put it away. Place your mobile device out of sight to prevent temptation.
- Know where you’re going. If using a navigation system, program the destination before driving.
- Pull over. If you must call or text while on the road, pull off the road safely and stop first.
- Ask passengers for help. If riding with someone, seek their help to navigate, make a call or send a message.
- Be a good passenger. Speak out if the driver of your vehicle is distracted.
- Don’t be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting others when you know they are driving.
- Activate Do Not Disturb. Setting up this feature on iPhone or Android device will prevent calls from coming in while you’re driving.
- Everyone should prevent being intexticated. Just as drivers need to pay attention, so do pedestrians and bicyclists. Never call, text or play games while walking or cycling.
This year continues AAA’s distracted driving prevention initiative titled “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.” The goal of the multi-media initiative is to remind drivers that the consequences of both alcohol-impaired driving and smartphone use behind the wheel could be the same – crashes that result in deaths and injuries. AAA is releasing a new television public service announcement (PSA) which targets drivers who text while they are alone in their vehicle. The PSAs can be viewed here.