Cell phones aren’t the only way you can be distracted while driving
If there’s one thing you probably don’t leave home without, we’re willing to bet it’s your phone.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest that our phones are our connection to the world in so many ways. It’s not just a phone—it’s a device that tells us the weather, keeps our calendar, plays music, takes and holds photos, handles our banking information, connects us to friends, family, and work, among other things. A decade ago, many of us would never think that we would carry a single device in our hand that would be such an integral part of our lifestyle.
But here we are.
The problem is that because we rely so heavily on our phones, it can be difficult to ignore them when we’re doing the most important things. Many people will look at their phones while eating with family and friends... or while driving a car. And that’s not only unsafe, it’s also illegal in the state of Maryland.
Maryland distracted driving laws for driving and cell phone use
It is against the law in Maryland to:
- Read, write, or send a text message while driving.
- Use a handheld mobile phone for calls while driving.
A driver who is under age 18 may not use a cell phone while driving, even in hands-free mode.
In other words, you may talk on the phone in hands-free mode if you are 18 or over. You may not use the phone (or any electronic device) for texting, sending or receiving email, or for any other purpose that would require you to use the phone with your hands.
The only other exceptions to Maryland’s distracted driving laws are if the driver needs to call 911 or any other emergency responder like a fire department, hospital, or ambulance provider. You’re also permitted to call the police in an emergency.
Primary vs. secondary enforcement
Maryland is a primary enforcement state for cell phone use. That means a police officer can pull you over if they see you using a phone, even if you’re not violating any other laws.
In a secondary enforcement state, you could only be charged with a cell phone violation if you were pulled over for another violation at the same time.
Penalties for distracted driving in Maryland
|Drivers using a hand-held device
|$75 fine (total of $83 after court costs)
|$125 fine (total of $140 with court costs)
|Third or subsequent violation
|Up to $175 fine
|Drivers convicted of texting
|If no crash occurs
|$70 fine, 1 point added to driving record
|If texting causes a crash
|$110 fine, 3 points added to driving record
|Jake’s Law (2014)
|If a driver causes serious injury or death while violating the distracted driving laws, they could be fined up to $5,000 and be sentenced to up to 3 years in prison.
Jake’s Law was passed by the Maryland legislature following the death of 5-year-old Jake Owen, who was killed in a car accident caused by a distracted driver in 2011.
Are other distractions illegal?
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit for damages if you cause an accident because of distraction that isn’t phone-related.
What is distracted driving?
We know that using your phone or other electronic device is a distraction when you’re behind the wheel. But there are other ways to be distracted, too.
Distracted driving is when a driver performs any activity while behind the wheel that takes their attention away from the primary task of driving.
There are 3 types of distraction:
- Visual: Anything that takes your eyes off the road.
- Manual: Anything that takes your hands off the wheel.
- Cognitive: Anything that takes your mind off the task of driving.
Examples of distracted driving could include eating or reaching for your coffee, applying makeup, shaving, handing something to a passenger in the backseat, listening to loud music, adjusting dashboard settings like air conditioning or radio, using a GPS or paper map, or even being distracted by something happening outside the car.
Passengers can be a big distraction, whether it’s a crying baby or an adult who’s making a lot of noise or attracting your attention some other way.
Although each of these behaviors can cause a crash, using a cell phone tends to be the most dangerous form of distracted driving because it involves all 3 types of distraction at once — visual, manual, and cognitive.
In 2018, there were 16,050 citations issued by Maryland State Police and 18,671 warnings.
Legal options after an accident with a distracted driver
If you’re injured in an accident with a distracted driver, who covers the cost of your medical treatment and other losses?
Every state is either an at-fault or a no-fault state for financial liability after a car accident. In a no-fault state, each person’s insurance would cover their own costs regardless of who caused the accident. But Maryland is an at-fault state, which means that determining who caused the accident will be very important for providing compensation to either party.
An at-fault state is also known as a “tort” state. That means the financial costs of an accident or injury are covered by the insurance policy belonging to the person who is at fault, or liable, for the crash.
Basically, this means that if you’re injured in a car accident in Maryland, there are 3 ways to pursue compensation:
- File a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
- File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
- File an uninsured motorist claim on your own insurance policy if the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance.
If the amount of insurance is less than the full extent of your financial losses, you can file a personal injury lawsuit for any excess costs or expenses that aren’t covered by insurance.
Maryland negligence laws
Negligence in a car accident is the failure to take reasonable care to avoid an accident. Maryland follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, which means that if you were also found to have any degree of negligence, you won’t recover any damages in a car accident lawsuit.
Negligence per se is sometimes argued in a civil case (i.e. a personal injury lawsuit) to show that because a criminal law was broken, such as texting and driving, it shows that the driver was negligent and liable for the accident. In other words, if the defendant was doing exactly the thing the law was designed to prevent (such as causing an accident because they were texting while driving), then the defendant could be found negligent per se for the crash.
If the driver was distracted in a way that wasn’t phone-related, then your lawyer might be able to recover damages based on their negligence in causing the accident, but negligence per se would not be applicable since the law only prohibits the use of cell phones and electronic devices. Other distractions can result in negligent driving, but they are not specifically illegal.
How do you prove that a driver was distracted?
In cases when it’s suspected that a driver was using their cell phone, your lawyer might be able to obtain their phone records through the discovery process. Not everything on a cell phone will appear on the records, though. Calls and text messages would have a time stamp, so it might be possible to ascertain whether the driver was actively using the phone at the time of the crash. However, if they were using some other function or app, the records might not show exactly what the phone was being used for, and that would make it harder to prove.
Other kinds of distractions, like eating and drinking, for instance, could be proven if there’s eyewitness testimony. If no one saw the accident happen, it would be hard to prove that a person was taking a giant bite of their sandwich at the time when they swerved and hit you. However, your lawyer can prove that the driver was negligent even if they can’t prove a specific distraction.
A professional lawyer will work with accident reconstruction professionals and other experts to determine the exact cause of the accident in order to determine liability.
10 tips for avoiding distracted driving
You can’t control other drivers on the road. But you can make sure you are doing your part to avoid distracted driving by following these tips:
- Never hold your phone in your hand. If you need to use it as your GPS, mount it to the dashboard so you can see the map without taking your eyes off the road. Turn off other notifications so you’re not seeing other banners or pop-up notifications on the map while you’re driving.
- Silence your phone before getting in the car.
- It’s not just about texting — don’t use any apps or social media while driving. If you need to send a text or look at something, pull over where it’s safe to do so.
- Don’t text or call someone if you know they’re likely to be driving.
- If you can’t resist looking at your phone when it buzzes, keep it somewhere you can’t get it (like in the back seat or trunk) so that you’re not tempted to sneak a peek.
- Don’t eat or drink while driving.
- If you listen to music or podcasts from your phone while driving, queue your selections before you go so you don’t have to touch your phone while behind the wheel.
- Don’t allow your passengers to be a distraction.
- If you drop something on the floor of the car, either leave it there until you’ve reached your destination or pull over to retrieve it.
- Regardless of what’s happening outside the car, don’t use your phone to take videos or pictures while driving. If you feel like recording traffic is useful, purchase a Dash Cam that can record without driver intervention.
If you were injured in an accident with a distracted driver, it’s important to seek the assistance of a qualified lawyer who’s experienced in Maryland distracted driving lawsuits. Remember that the insurance company might not always offer you the highest and best settlement for your injuries, but your lawyer will work with the insurer, the other party, and the legal system if necessary to recover compensation.