Last week in Bethesda, Maryland a team of law enforcement officers issued 65 citations for distracted driving in roughly a two-hour span. Phillip Chapin, a Sergeant with the Montgomery County Police Department, explained that despite awareness of the laws, the accidents caused by distractions continue each day. He says they are beginning to conduct these operations across their region. In the Frederick area, roadway signage has been installed reminding drivers to “Park Cell Phone Before You Drive”.
The fines for distracted driving are the same throughout the state. Those who are first-time offenders are penalized $83, while second and third-time offenders must pay $140 and $160. If a distracted driver is determined to have been the cause of a serious injury or death, they may face up to a three year prison sentence. It is possible that injury victims in these claims of negligence can prove the driver was using a mobile device at the time of the collision. A personal injury attorney may compel mobile phone records and/or social media account data to establish a timeline leading up to the accident.
Defining Distracted Driving
Data shows that distracted driving is attributed to roughly 25% of vehicle accidents across in the U.S. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration defines a distracted driving crash as being one where a driver is not devoting their “full time and attention”. Some common examples of distracting activities include:
- Using a mobile device such as a phone, tablet, or music player
- Eating or drinking
- Smoking-related activity
- Attempting to reach for objects beyond reach
- Tending to children
- Reading something
Annually, distracted driving is estimated to claim 3,500 lives—fatalities that are avoidable. The Maryland Highway Safety Office says that between 2012 and 2018, there were 250 fatalities and over 2,500 severe injuries caused by this problem, numbers that are probably just a fraction of the real number of instances. It is often difficult to prove that a driver was distracted prior to a collision. A driver who was distracted is not likely to volunteer this information knowing that it is an admission of wrongdoing and possible liability for the accident. Virginia is also attempting to combat this problem that reportedly killed 800 in 2017.
Maryland State Police Efforts
Lieutenant Wayne Wachsmuth of the Maryland State Police says local authorities will be patrolling in marked and unmarked cars for the enforcement of distracted driving laws. He reminded people that “your hands should be completely free”, rather than occupied using a mobile device. Joe George, a commander in the Hagerstown region, says although April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, enforcement will continue year-round.
Volume of Citations
Troopers in Washington County in 2016 cited 245 individuals for distracted driving and issued over 600 warnings. In the state police's Hagerstown barrack, 456 drivers were cited. Between April 1st of 2017 and April of this year, the Hagerstown Police also stopped over 50 motorists for various violations of distracted driving laws.