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Texting while driving as dangerous as driving under influence of drugs or alcohol

October 15, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

Watching traffic from a busy Hagerstown street corner might be all the evidence you need to confirm that motorists aren't obeying a state law prohibiting the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

On the afternoon of Oct. 3, The Herald-Mail counted drivers as they drove through the intersections of Franklin and North Potomac streets in front of City Hall, Summit Avenue and West Washington Street in front of Washington County Circuit Court, and West Antietam and South Potomac streets in front of the Washington County Free Library.

From 1:45 to 2:40 p.m., at least 48 motorists were spotted talking on their cellphones, while five others were seen using their cellphones to read or send a text message.

The Maryland law that bans talking on cellphones in vehicles took effect Oct. 1, 2010. The law that bans texting took effect Oct. 1, 2009.

Talking on a cellphone while driving is a secondary offense in Maryland, meaning a police officer has to stop a motorist for committing another violation, such as speeding or reckless operation, before they can issue a ticket for talking on a cellphone.

The fine is $40 for the first offense and $100 for the second offense.

Maryland's texting law is a primary offense, which allows a police officer to stop the driver for that infraction alone. A first offense for texting carries a $70 fine.

Several Tri-State-area residents said they believed cellphone laws should be more stringent.

Jermaine Ford, 32, of Hagerstown, said he believed state lawmakers should make all cellphone-use laws a primary violation.

"That's when most accidents occur, when people are texting or talking on their phone," Ford said. "They should pull them over on the spot. More lives would be saved that way."

Mickey Dawson agreed.

"If you ain't concentrating on what you're doing, there's no need to have a license," said Dawson, 23, of Hagerstown. "Think about it. Kids could be walking down the street and boom, you have a death on your hands."

Allan Mantle, 19, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., admitted to using his cellphone behind the wheel, although West Virginia doesn't have laws banning talking or texting while driving.

"I text when I drive," Mantle said. "I know it's not smart. I've had several close calls because I was texting while driving."

Mantle praised Maryland for having cellphone laws, and said he believed that lives could be saved in West Virginia if lawmakers their followed suit.

Mantle said he considered texting while driving to be as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, Mantle might be right. The MVA says that texting behind the wheel slows reaction time as if the driver had a blood alcohol content of .16 percent.

The legal limit in Maryland is .08 percent.

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Inattentive driving statistics

The following are statistics related to inattentive driving:

  • Nearly 31,000 inattentive driving crashes occur in Maryland every year.
  • Inattentive driving crashes cause about 20,000 injuries annually.
  • Approximately 38 percent of all Maryland traffic injuries involve an inattentive driver.
  • Research shows that texting while driving delays reaction time the same as having a blood-alcohol content of .16 percent.

Source: Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration

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