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Distracted Driving Month Kicks Off With Coordinated Effort to Save Lives

Officials Launch Statewide Signage Campaign to Remind Motorists: It Can Wait! Rest Areas Designated as Safe Zones for Texts and Calls

I-95 Maryland House Travel Plaza (April 7, 2016) - April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and officials with the Maryland Department of Transportation today joined representatives from the Maryland State Police (MSP), Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Police, AAA and AT&T to launch a coordinated statewide effort to save lives by unveiling new highway signs designating rest areas as safe texting and calling zones.  Handheld cell phones are the leading cause of distracted driving, which results in nearly 29,000 injuries and more than 230 deaths each year in Maryland.  The state is in the process of installing 26 signs prior to 13 rest areas​ alerting motorists of Maryland’s law that prohibits the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.  It Can Wait! is written in large letters on the signs to remind drivers that their call/text can wait until they reach the next rest area. 

“Handheld cell phones have proven to be lifesavers, but when it comes to driving, these devices can be deadly,” said Motor Vehicle Administrator and Governor Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative Christine Nizer.  “These signs will serve as a visible reminder to motorists that their calls and texts can wait.”

Driver distraction is involved in 58 percent of all crashes on Maryland roads and nearly half of all fatal crashes.  Nationwide, eight people are killed and more than 1,100 injured EVERY DAY due to distracted driving.

“The MDTA is pleased to unveil this important campaign’s first signs on I-95 at the Maryland and Chesapeake House travel plazas,” said MDTA Executive Director Milt Chaffee.  “The MDTA Police also are stepping up distracted-driving enforcement and education at Maryland’s bridges, tunnels and toll roads this month.”

“Citations for distracted driving can be as much as $160 and can also include points on a driver’s license,” stated Lt. Colonel Anthony Satchell of the Maryland State Police. “Drivers who cause crashes when they use a handheld cell phone are subject to penalties of up to one year in jail and a fine of $5,000.”

“Encountering a distracted driver on the roadway is the biggest traffic safety concern facing Maryland motorists, even more so than drunk drivers, drugged drivers and aggressive drivers, according to a recent poll conducted by AAA,” said Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA. “Forty-two percent of survey respondents indicated that distracted driving was their most important traffic safety concern in 2016.”

“Since we launched the It Can Wait campaign, we've been working with organizations across the state to remind all drivers about the dangers of texting while driving,” said AT&T Maryland President Denis Dunn.  “We're excited to team up with the State of Maryland to help better spread the word to keep your eyes on the road, not on your phone because It Can Wait.”

Today’s launch included a driving simulator that illustrated the dangers of distracted driving to visitors at the Maryland House Travel Plaza.  A statewide media campaign aimed specifically at preventing handheld cell phone use while driving also was unveiled at the event.  Throughout April, radio spots, billboards and social media will highlight the life-threatening aspects of distracted driving. 

Here’s how to curb distracted driving:

  • Park the phone before you drive.
  • Make any calls or texts before you start driving or pull into a Maryland Rest Area or other safe placeto make the call/text.
  • Keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.
  • Ride Responsibly. If you’re a passenger, and your driver is texting or making calls, ask them to stop.
  • Drive Defensively. Just because you don’t drive distracted doesn’t mean that others won’t.
  • Always buckle up! It’s the single most important way to save your life in a crash.