Maryland Distracted Driving

A Guide to Maryland's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving Laws

There are roughly 120,000 car accidents every year in Maryland. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Maryland defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts a driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger drivers, passengers and pedestrians.”

According to the state government, most distractions involve cognitive and/or sensory distractions, like dialing a number into a phone, which involves holding the device, looking at it, and punching in the numbers. 

When you pay attention to the conversation with the person on the other end, that is another.

Most distractions are totally legal, but still present a big-time hazard, like handing a toy to a child in the backseat, adjusting the radio, or taking a swig of water. Currently Maryland state lawmakers are focused on preventing accidents related to texting and handheld cell phone use while driving.

Distracted Driving Statistics in Maryland

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in Maryland:

  • The Maryland Highway Safety Officer reports that distracted driving is responsible for more than 27,000 injuries and 185 deaths per year in Maryland.
  • Distracted driving contributes to 58% of all car crashes in Maryland, including 60% of all injury crashes and 37% of all fatal crashes.
  • In April 2019, during National Distracted Driving Month, Maryland state troopers issued 2,061 citations and 1,010 warning for distracted driving.
  • Distracted driving accidents are common in MD on all days of the week and at all times of the day and night, but they are most common on Fridays between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Males between the ages of 21 and 29 are most frequently responsible for distracted driving accidents in Maryland.
  • Prince George’s and Baltimore counties see the highest rates of distracted driving accidents in the state.

Does Maryland Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

Currently, Maryland prohibits the following:

  • Reading, writing, or sending text messages while behind the wheel is prohibited for all drivers.
  • The use of handheld cell phones is prohibited for all drivers.
  • Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using cell phones while driving, even if in hands-free mode.

Maryland compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But in 2021, newly enacted cell phone restriction laws will go into effect in Arizona.

Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in Maryland?

Yes.

Exceptions to Maryland’s distracted driving laws apply when the driver is calling:

  • 911
  • A hospital
  • An ambulance provider
  • A fire department
  • Law enforcement, or
  • A first aid team.

Also, drivers are allowed to touch their handheld cell phone only to initiate/terminate a call or to turn on/off the device.

Maryland Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                                                  X
Is handheld device use permitted?                               X
Any special restriction for young drivers?               X                
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
                X

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger while Driving in Maryland?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as sending a Snapchat message.  Basically, anything that takes your attention away from the primary task of driving presents a potential hazard.

So, what happens if a police officer in Maryland spots you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that specifically states that you can't eat while driving in this state.

However, even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the A/C) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, so it's better to avoid as many distractions as possible. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking at a citation.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off just eating your cheeseburger indoors or in the parking lot.

What Is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws. 

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

Maryland uses primary enforcement, but this wasn't always the case.

Until October 1, 2013, Maryland relied on secondary enforcement of these laws. This made it hard for officers to issue citations or warnings, even when a driver was texting in full sight.

But now, thanks to primary enforcement, even if you're obeying all traffic laws and believe you're in total control of your vehicle, if a police officer sees you sending a text message or talking on a handheld device while driving, you can be pulled over and given a citation.

Number of Distracted Driving Citations Issued in Maryland

Number of Distracted Driving Citations Issued in Maryland

As Maryland drivers adjust to the new primary enforcement laws enacted by the state, the number of citations issued continues to decrease. However, 30,000 infractions in one year is still very high, highlighting that distracted driving is, and a continues to be, a problem in this state.

What Is the Fine for Distracted Driving in Maryland?

Currently, the penalties for a distracted driving citation in Maryland are as follows:

Drivers cited for using a hand-held device:

  • For a first violation, offenders are fined $75 ($83 with court costs added)
  • For a second violation, offenders are fined $125 ($140 with court costs added)
  • For a third or subsequent violation, offenders are fined up to $175

Drivers cited for texting:

  • If no crash occurs, offenders are fined $70 and have one point added against their driving record.
  • If texting contributes to a crash, offenders are fined $110 and have three points added against their driving record.

And, since the passage of Jake’s Law in 2014, if a driver causes serious injury or death to another while violating the state’s distracted driving laws, they may be fined up to $5,000 and face up to three years in prison.

Does Distracted Driving in Maryland Increase Insurance Rates?

Yes.

Because a distracted driving citation goes on your driving record, you can expect that your car insurance company will be notified of the violation. How this affects your rates depends mainly on which insurance company you are using and your overall driving history.

On average, car insurance rates in Maryland go up about $115 a year following a distracted driving violation.  

Plus, if you've been enjoying a safe driver discount, you can probably kiss that good-bye. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more significant.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary from state to state, so if you drive into a neighboring state with different laws, make sure you follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation.

Because Maryland already prohibits the use of handheld cell phones and texting for all drivers, it isn't likely you'll be driving into any states that have laws that go beyond what Maryland requires. 

However, distracted driving laws are being updated all the time, so it's important that you stay informed and do your research before taking your next long car trip.

What Is Maryland Doing to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Officials in Maryland have cited distracted driving as one of the top factors responsible for the state’s unusual rise in traffic fatalities. Indeed, after a full decade of declining fatality rates, the state recently saw a 17% spike in fatal accidents. 

Because of this, lawmakers are looking for ways to lower instances of serious collisions in Maryland. They are currently looking into raising fines for violating the state’s distracted driving laws to as high as $500 per violation.

In the meantime, state troopers are increasing their enforcement of state laws. Also, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration have begun putting light-up boards on major roadways that read “Phones down – Buckle up. Enforcement underway.”  

Additionally, the state sponsors the “Park the Phone Before You Drive” initiative.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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http://www.mva.maryland.gov/safety/distracteddriving.htm

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/maryland_fy2018_hsp.pdf

https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/crime_and_justice/distracted-driving-campaign-sees-drop-in-citations-warnings-issued/article_b31fde2f-5126-5450-9137-f65d60378ea3.html

https://towardzerodeathsmd.com/distracted-driving/