The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month released its 2020 annual traffic crash data, showing that 38,824 lives were lost in traffic crashes nationwide. That number marks the highest number of fatalities since 2007.
Of that number, 3,142 people died in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
In Maine alone, there are 3,446 distracted driving crashes on average each year and approximately 45 deaths, according to the state’s Bureau of Highway Safety.
Distracted driving, according to NHTSA, is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone; eating and drinking; talking to people in your vehicle; and fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system. In other words, anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.
Drivers who send or view text messages while driving are most at risk for crashes. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 mph, that is like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. We can all agree that is not a safe way to drive.
Since 2019, Maine has had laws on the books to combat distracted driving. According to state statute, here are the rules of the road: A person who has attained 18 years of age and is not operating with an intermediate license issued or a learner’s permit may use a mobile telephone or handheld electronic device while operating a motor vehicle if the mobile telephone or handheld electronic device is being used in hands-free mode.
The operator of a motor vehicle may use a hand to activate or deactivate a feature or function of a mobile telephone or handheld electronic device that is in hands-free mode and mounted or affixed to the vehicle in a location that does not interfere with the operator’s view of the road if the feature or function activated requires only a single swipe, tap or push of the operator’s finger.
The operative word in that last sentence is “single,” meaning that one swipe is allowed, while two swipes (or more) are not. Just merely attaching the phone to a stationary place on the dashboard does not give free license to text, check social media accounts or send email. One swipe is one swipe.
April is distracted driving month. Throughout the month, officers will be on the lookout for distracted drivers. Fines will be levied for those caught violating the law. It is $50 for a first offense and subsequent violations are $250.
Having trouble following the law? Here are some tips from the Bureau of Highway Safety:
• Ask your passenger to be your “designated texter.” Allow them access to your phone to respond to calls or messages.
• Do not engage in social media scrolling or messaging while driving.
• Avoid eating while driving.
• Activate your phone’s “do not disturb” feature, or put your phone in the trunk, glove box or back seat of your vehicle until you arrive at your destination.