Maryland Gets Touger on Distracted Driving

Distracted driving, defined as operating a motor vehicle with one’s attention split between the road and a mobile electronic communication device, is responsible for a significant number of accidents and fatalities on Maryland roads. The Maryland State Highway Administration identified 24,769 automobile accidents in 2008 that involved distracted driving. Those crashes killed thirty-four people and injured 11,578. That year, almost 6,000 people nationwide died in distraction-related crashes, with distraction playing a role in twenty-five percent of all automobile crashes. The total number of fatalities dropped to about 5,500 in 2009 and 3,000 in 2010, but those are still enormous numbers, making distracted driving nearly as big a threat as drunk driving. Recent events and legislative efforts have brought distracted driving into the spotlight again.

An accident in Connecticut demonstrates the danger posed by distracted driving. A jogger, 44 year-old Kenneth Dorsey, died on March 24 after a vehicle driven by a 16 year-old girl struck him. The girl was allegedly talking or texting on a handheld cell phone at the time. Police have not said specifically what she was allegedly doing, except that evidence suggests she had used the phone’s keypad before the accident. Prosecutors in Norwalk, Connecticut charged the girl with negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and with violating the state’s ban on use of a cell phone by novice drivers.

Thirty-one states prohibit use of handheld cell phones while driving for all drivers, including Connecticut and Maryland. Distracted driving laws vary from state to state, but no states have banned use of cell phones entirely. Maryland drivers may use a cell phone with a hands-free device like a headset, although use of a cell phone in any manner by drivers under the age of eighteen will be prohibited beginning October 1, 2012. School bus drivers are currently prohibited from using a handheld cell phone while working. All drivers are prohibited from writing or sending text messages while driving, except for the purpose of contacting a 9-1-1 emergency system.

Maryland passed its handheld cell phone ban in April 2010, and it took effect October 1, 2010. Maryland was the seventh state to enact such a ban. A proposed bill in the most recent Maryland legislative session would have changed the penalty for violating the cell phone ban, making it a primary offense instead of a secondary one. The bill passed the House of Delegates in February, but did not make it out of the Senate Judicial Committee.

Legislative efforts to curb cell phone use while driving may or may not reduce the overall number of distraction-related accidents and fatalities. These laws can be helpful to a person injured by a distracted driver in making a claim for negligence. A claim for negligence requires proof that a defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and breached that duty, and that the breach caused injury to the plaintiff. Drivers, as a general rule, owe a duty of care to drive reasonably safely and obey the rules of the road. A conviction for violating a cell phone ban could serve as prima facie evidence of negligence.

The Maryland accident injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at pursuing justice for people injured in automobile accidents on Maryland roads. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

University of Maryland Study Shows Increased Risk of Pedestrian Injuries with Electronics Use, Maryland Accident Law Blog, April 11, 2012
Preventing Maryland Car Crashes: State Senate Approves Ban on Reading Text Messages While Driving, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 9, 2011
The Fight Against Distracted Driving: Baltimore County Lawmaker Pushes for Tougher Cell Phone Driving Law, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 16, 2011

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