New Law Bans Hand-held Mobile Phones Effective October 1; PSA Released for National Drive Safely Work Week Campaign

(September 28, 2010) – Talking on a hand-held mobile phone while driving is a distraction that is not only dangerous, but beginning October 1 in Maryland, it also is illegal. Nearly 31,000 crashes in the State are attributed to driver inattention.  Coupled with the 2009 texting ban, the laws are powerful tools to combat the leading cause of traffic deaths and injuries – distracted driving. 
“Protecting the public’s safety is the greatest obligation that we have in government.” said Governor Martin O’Malley.  “This new law is a big step toward reducing the number of crashes, deaths and severe injuries caused by distracted driving.” 
As thousands of vehicles swiftly traveled north along I-95 at a news conference today, Colonel Terrence B. Sheridan, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police and Delegate James E. Malone, Jr. joined Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley as she unveiled one of the signs that will be placed at state borders to alert drivers about Maryland’s new laws prohibiting hand-held cell phone use and texting while driving. 
“Every one of us has a responsibility to pay attention and drive safely,” said Secretary Swaim-Staley.  “A call can wait.  The best advice is to make your vehicle a no-phone zone and not even use it while driving.”
According to the National Safety Council, 1.6 million crashes in the United States are caused by cell phone use.  Studies indicate that mobile phone conversations distract drivers and delay reaction time, which can cause and increase the severity of traffic crashes.  Additionally, a person makes an average of 20 major decisions during every mile of driving and frequently has less than one-half second to act to avoid collisions.
“It only takes a second on the cell phone to drastically change the lives of you and your loved ones,” said Delegate Malone.  “If we all obey this law starting today, we will be one step closer to arriving home safely tomorrow.”
Working hard with his legislative partners to pass this legislation, Delegate Malone defended the bill on the house floor during the legislative session.  Delegate Malone is a 35-year veteran volunteer firefighter and frequently responds to help people injured in vehicular crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a study in 2006 and found the risk of a crash or near-crash increases by nearly 30 percent when a driver is engaged in a mobile phone conversation.  The risk of a traffic crash more than doubles when a driver dials.
“We know that a combination of good laws and enforcement can reduce deadly distracted driving behavior,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland.  “Maryland residents are safer today thanks to this new anti-distracted driving law and vigilant enforcement by state police.”
The law, also known as the Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act, prohibits drivers in Maryland from using a mobile phone without a hands free device while operating a motor vehicle on a street or highway.  Law enforcement officers will issue tickets to violators with fines up to $100 and one point.  If the violator causes a crash, he or she may receive three points. The court may waive a penalty for a person convicted of a first offense if the person provides proof that he/she has acquired a hands–free device for the person’s hand-held telephone. 
The law is named for the late delegate in honor of his many years of advocacy for such a law.
“The number one cause behind traffic crashes in Maryland continues to be ‘failure to give full attention’ behind the wheel,” said Colonel Terrence B. Sheridan, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police.  “The new law will help to alleviate one of the many driver distractions that can lead to an injury or a fatality on our highways.”
The new cell phone law takes effect as National Drive Safely Work Week (DSWW) starts.  DSWW is an annual workplace safety campaign sponsored by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS).  This year, SHA has teamed up with NETS and AAA to highlight the dangers of distracted driving, particularly as related to the use of cell phones and texting while driving.  The week-long campaign begins on October 4.
AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Public and Government Affairs Manager Ragina Averella attended the news conference to release a new television public service announcement (PSA) produced by Leah Shenfeld of Owings Mills and Shawn Markow from Pikesville to highlight the dangers of texting and driving for teen audiences.  The teens won AAA’s National Traffic Safety Poster and Video Contest.   The PSA will be featured during the DSWW observance in Maryland.
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