Distracted drivers facing severe penalties


New laws regarding texting and cellphone use while driving have gone fully into effect and now carry heavier penalties.

“First offenses now bring a $75 fine. A second offense could bring a ticket of up to $125, and a third to $175. The old fine for violations range from $40 to $100,” explained Capt. Babe Wilson, operations commanders at the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office.

“It is illegal for the driver of a vehicle to engage in any sort of text messaging while behind the wheel. This includes checking and reading text messages while at a stop light or while the vehicle is stopped for any reason if in the travel portion of the roadway,” Wilson warned.

Senate Bill No. 348 stipulates “a text messaging device or a handheld telephone while driving that causes an accident that directly results in the death or serious bodily injury of another is a misdemeanor.”

If the driver is convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to one year, fined up to $5,000, or both. The driver will also have 12-points applied to his driving record.

The three types of distracted driving are visual, taking eyes off the road; manual, taking hands off the wheel; and cognitive, taking the mind off the task of driving.

 “Here in this county, we see a lot texting. The driver can be distracted if he has things in his hand. It’s no different than if they have a newspaper in their hands and they’re driving down the street,” Wilson said.

The new distracted driving law applies to both talking and texting.

“Talking is just as bad because you are multi-tasking. You’re talking and  thinking about something else. If you use a bluetooth, you can talk, but it’s still not a good idea. I can’t do it,” Wilson said.

He recommended pulling over onto the side of the road, or into a parking lot, to make calls and send text messages.

Wilson offered these safety tips:

Ask the passenger to make the call

Avoid eating while driving because it makes the driver less attentive.

Don’t drive if drowsy.

Don’t allow pets to sit on the driver’s lap while driving.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has also taken an interest in hands-free communication, according to a press release from Ragina Cooper Averella, public and government affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Averella said product safety can be improved “by making them less complicated, more accurate and generally easier to use, a point AAA hopes to use in working with manufacturers to make hands-free technologies as safe as possible for consumers.

 “We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their mind is not fully focused on the road ahead. We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction,” she added.

She explained reaction times were measured by Dr. David Strayer and researchers from the University of Utah and it was determined composing text messages and emails while driving was more distracting than listening to messages.

The research revealed:

*Listening to the radio rated as a Category 1 distraction;

*Talking on a hand-held or hands-free cell phone resulted in a Category 2 distraction;

*Using an error-free speech-to-text system to listen to and compose emails or texts was a Category 3 distraction.

“Technologies used in the car that rely on voice communications may have unintended consequences that adversely affect road safety,” Averella said.

She said Dr. Joel Cooper of Precision Driving Research evaluated drivers changing radio stations and voice dialing with systems in six automakers’ vehicles.

On the five point scale, Toyota’s Entune system garnered the lowest distraction ranking, with 1.7, similar to listening to an audio book.

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