Starting today, Maryland State Police can pull you over and write you a $75 ticket if you’re caught using a hand-held cell phone behind the wheel. Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly voted to make using your hands to operate a wireless device while driving a primary offense.
If you’re under 18 years old, the law goes even further. Young drivers and adults driving on provisional licenses or learner’s permits aren’t allowed to use wireless devices at all (with the exception of dialing or texting 9-1-1 in an emergency).
Today, using a hand-held wireless device is considered a primary offense across three states in our region: Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware:
Why make hand-held cell phone use a primary offense? We’re all using our cell phones more and more often. There were about 322 million cell phone subscribers as of June 2012 (up 32% from June 2007). Minutes of cell phone use are up 18% and texting has spiked to 2.3 trillion messages per year – nine times the number sent in June 2007.
Studies also show we’re doing at least some of this talking and texting behind the wheel. Federal observational data indicate that about 5% of drivers in 2010 were talking on hand-held cell phones at any given moment during the day. That’s 660,000 passenger vehicles being operated by at least partially distracted drivers every minute of every day. Another government survey in 2011 found that 18% of adult drivers reported sending a text or email while driving.
Whether you believe the reports that just talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk (PDF) or those that claim cell phone use doesn’t raise crash risk at all, most research indicates distracted driving – no matter what the distraction may be – is dangerous.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3,331 people were killed in crashes attributed to distracted driving in 2011. That same year, an additional 387,000 people were injured in distracted driving crashes. Cell phone use wasn’t a factor in most of these accidents, but it’s certainly one distraction we can easily control while we’re behind the wheel.