Distracted driving is a problem for anyone on the road. In Maryland alone, between 2007 and 2011, 152,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents and about 1,100 were killed. Nearly two-thirds of drivers say they talked on a handheld cell phone while driving in the last month, and one in three do it on a regular basis.
Time to buy a new bluetooth headset!
Currently in Maryland, texting while driving is a primary offense and talking on a handheld phone is a secondary offense. This means that if a police officer spots you texting while driving, he can pull you over for it. But if he sees you talking on a handheld phone, he can’t pull you over unless you do something else wrong–like speeding.
All of this is about to change. On October 1, Maryland will join nine other states and the District of Columbia in making talking on a handheld phone while driving a primary offense. What doe this mean for you? If you're talking on your cell phones without the use of a hands-free device (such as a bluetooth headset), you can get pulled over and issued a ticket. And don't think that simply putting your phone on speaker is okay. If it's still in your hand, you can get pulled over!
Under the new law, drivers who are emailing, texting or talking without a hands-free device can be pulled over and issued a ticket. The bill also ups the handheld phone punishment–from fines as low as $40 to as high as $500. And for the first time, getting caught could add points to your license.
Will the new law make us safer?
While the number of tickets for distracted driving is expected to increase (Washington, DC passed a similar law in 2004 and has issued 95,268 tickets for distracted driving, 87,851 of which were due to cellphone use), it's not clear whether the new law will reduce the number of accidents on Maryland roads. A 2009 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that the frequency of insurance collision claims did not change after Washington, DC passed its cellphone driving ban. The study showed that the frequency of claims paralleled those in Maryland and Virginia (states that did not have similar bans at the time) while there was no statistical difference in the District before and after the ban's passage.
Only time will tell whether the new law here in Maryland will make a real difference in terms of our safety on the road, but in the meantime, it's important that you understand the changes that will come into effect on October 1 and be prepared to comply with them.