County tied for lead in texting citations
Sixty offenders caught in Maryland
Montgomery County is tied with Baltimore County in leading the state in the number of drivers cited for the new Maryland texting-while-driving law that took effect Oct. 1.
Police in both counties have cited eight drivers for texting while driving, an offense punishable by a $500 fine and a point on the driver's license.
Across the state, 60 citations have been issued so far. Nationwide, Maryland is one of 18 states that bans sending text messages while driving. The District of Columbia also has imposed a ban.
"There were a lot of people who said you can't catch any people texting while driving. Well, they caught 60 people doing it so that argument is out the window," said Del. Frank S. Turner (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia, who sponsored the ban in the Maryland House. He said the law can deter a number of drivers who might consider text messaging.
The Maryland law bans sending text messages while driving, but doesn't target reading messages and or talking on a cell phone, making it difficult for police to enforce, said county police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks.
"It's very challenging," Starks said of catching people in the act of sending a text message. "Officers have to ride practically right next to somebody. Many people aren't holding their devices up to the windshield. It's down in their laps."
On Tuesday, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the organization of a new national nonprofit advocacy group, FocusDriven, which will highlight the dangers of motorists sending text messages, making cell phone calls or partaking of other activities while driving.
Citing an estimated 6,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries from crashes caused by distracted drivers nationally in 2008, LaHood called it a preventable, national "epidemic."
LaHood compared the efforts of FocusDriven to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which targets alcohol-impaired driving.
Raising public awareness is an important part of Maryland's texting ban, one supporter said.
"While it is probably too early to tell how effective the law actually is, it's probably having some deterrent in raising public awareness, said Ragina C. Averella, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which supported the ban against texting while driving. "There is a law now on the books, so many people aren't doing it as frequently."
Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said police are able to spot many types of violations that require them to observe the offense.
"Even if they can't make the charge of texting while driving, they can still stop the vehicle for other violations, such as crossing left of the center line if that's what the driver did," he said.