From Staff Reports
CUMBERLAND — In 2008, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than a half a million injured in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
No one knows how many of those crashes involved use of cell phones but officials believe cell phone use has contributed significantly to distracted driver crashes.
The Maryland State Highway Administration knows that that text message or “just can’t wait” call could kill. To combat the growing distracted driving epidemic, the SHA is partnering with Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Studios, which is launching a new nationwide campaign to make every car a “No Phone Zone.”
The first national “No Phone Zone” Day is today. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” will be devoted to raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and will honor its victims.
A study by the University of Utah indicated that cell phone use delays a driver’s reaction as much as a .08 blood alcohol concentration. Studies show that the safest action is to avoid using your cell phone while driving. A 2008 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that talking on a cell phone while driving — regardless of whether it’s hand-held or hands-free — quadruples a driver’s chances of being in a crash.
Vernon Betkey, chief of the SHA’s safety office, said “it is still not, nor has it ever been, acceptable to put yourself or other motorists at risk.”
“Our support of Oprah’s No Phone Zone is to further emphasize the responsibility of motorists to drive safe and focused. Adhering to Maryland’s texting law and recently passed cell phone bill is an easy way to do just that,” he said.
The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation this year that will make it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving without using a hands-free device beginning Oct. 1. This violation is only enforceable as a secondary offense, and first-time violators can be fined $40.
The newest poll released by AAA Mid-Atlantic indicates that motorists across the nation, as well as in Maryland, view distracted driving, particularly texting while driving, as a major traffic safety concern.
In Maryland, there were 23,707 inattentive driving-related vehicle crashes in 2008 resulting in 11,636 injuries and 35 fatalities, according to the Maryland Highway Safety Office.