- (Photo: flickr/OregonDOT)
Watch out, Maryland drivers. Your state has officially outlawed a new behavior as of October 1 — you no longer can legally send or even read text messages while driving, the state ruled, and cops began enforcing the new law a week ago. Why? People don't think it's safe to keep your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel, plain and simple. People often slam the behavior under the broader label of "distracted driving."
Maryland restricted road cell phone use a year ago, in October 2010, and this year, outlaws texting entirely as of a week ago. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood must be thrilled. AAA has also come out strongly in favor of such laws. This week, the organization announced surveys suggesting that although 94% of people support laws against distracted driving, one third of drivers still admit to doing so — which doesn't surprise me at all. Texting is a natural behavior for a lot of people, and restraint will be required to resist the temptation, especially when to comes to reading text messages. AAA says that up to 8,000 crashes a day happen nationwide thanks to these distracting text messages. Critics occasionally compare the danger to that of drunk driving.
To text and drive is now a misdemeanor in the state of Maryland, which classifies the behavior as a primary offense. The resulting fines for texting will be even higher than the existing fines that Maryland has been giving out for driver cell phone use. Get caught texting once, and cops will fine you $70. Do it again, the fine rises to $110 (the fines for cell phone use more generally are $40 and $100, respectively, since it counts as a secondary offense). Rest assured, however, that using your phone to text 911 and to use GPS is still completely okay.
Maryland joins D.C. in ranking texting while driving as a primary offense. Virginia restricts texting as well but classifies it as a secondary offense, with far lower fines. The majority of U.S. states now ban texting while driving. In the past year, Maryland has issued 4,021 warnings and 5,227 citations for drivers' cell-phone misbehavior. Staying vigilant on the road will pay in more than one way for you these days.
The Maryland Highway Administration has released a fact sheet driving home some of these points: