University Police and law enforcement officials across the state have been on the lookout for more distracted drivers this month as part of a statewide initiative to curb dangerous driving habits.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and this state’s Motor Vehicle Administration hopes to spread the word to younger drivers who might be susceptible to driving while distracted.
“Working in partnership with our highway safety office, law enforcement has been able to increase detail out looking for distracted driving,” said Buel Young, an MVA spokesman. “The ban on cellphone use, texting and driving — those are things the state has taken issue with.”
Young describes distracted driving as anything that takes your attention away from operating a vehicle. There are more than 53,000 crashes resulting from distracted driving in the state each year, and more than 28,000 people are injured in those crashes.
“Nothing is more important than your life or the life of another individual operating a vehicle on the roadways,” he said. “Remaining focused on what you’re doing … can prevent a crash and ultimately save yours or someone else’s life.”
University Police spokeswoman Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said police are extremely vigilant of behavior that could lead to accidents, especially near Route 1, which has a high concentration of vehicles and pedestrians every day.
“It’s very much on our mind because it’s just not the driver who’s being distracted where their attention is being taken all over the place; it’s the pedestrians,” she said. “A lot of things have taken place to alleviate that problem, but it’s still something we look at.”
The state’s penalty for writing, sending or reading a text message while operating a vehicle is anywhere up to a $70 fine and one point toward the driver’s license. If police prove that a crash resulted from texting, the fine could increase to $110 and three points toward the license, according to the MVA.
Police also can issue a fine up to $160 for operating a vehicle with a cellphone in hand, depending on the number of offenses committed, Hoaas said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan also declared April to be Work Zone Safety Month.
State Highway Administration spokeswoman Lora Rakowski said people should be cautious while driving in work zones in College Park due to continual construction in the area.
“Distractions are dangerous when driving anytime, but clearly work zones, where there is limited margin for error — it’s particularly more of a concern, and we are asking drivers to be their most alert,” Rakowski said.
Young, Hoaas and Rakowski each said educational programs could emphasize the importance of driving without distractions.
“With anything that requires a behavioral change, a lot of the time it comes back to education,” Hoaas said. “It’s definitely something that we can get to — it becoming more ingrained that it can wait until you get to your destination.”