Yesterday we embarked on a discussion of Maryland's efforts to reduce wrongful death and personal injuries on its roadways. We covered the Maryland Highway Safety Office's (MHSO) 2013 Annual report generally, with a specific focus on their goal of moving "Toward Zero Deaths".
The discussion concerned both aggressive and impaired driving prevention and strategies formulated to combat them.
Today we will focus on two other MHSO goals, increased occupant protection and reduced incidence of distracted driving.
Occupant or passenger/driver protection, contemplates ensuring universal seat belt usage. Unfortunately, the state's overall seat belt use rate has declined, although the state experienced a decline in the overall rate of unbelted occupant personal injuries and deaths overall. The five year annual rate for unbelted fatalities is an average of 126 fatalities and 2,305 injuries.
Approximately one quarter of all Maryland car, truck and bus crash fatalities, involve occupant and driver failure to use restraints and/or to use them properly.
So what is the solution to this problem? MHSO has emphasized both education and enforcement and also succeeded in shepherding through the legislature a change to the state adult seat belt law requiring all occupants regardless of age and seating position, to wear safety belts. This change made rear seat restraint use compulsory although failure to wear a rear seat belt is a secondary legal violation.
The much balleyhooed media "Click it or Ticket" campaign was the primary informational strategy. An increased emphasis on Child Passenger Safety (CPS) with widespread use of safety technicians to ensure proper usage of child safety seats and to distribute such seats to those without them, is also a significant outreach effort.
Reduction of distracted driving crashes is a nationwide push and Maryland made some progress in joining the herd in 2013. The state legislature passed House Bill 753 with an effective date of October 1, 2013, effectively banning the use of handheld devices while driving on Maryland's roadways.
In our Laurel, Maryland office, we regularly see cases where our prospective clients tell us that they saw the drivers responsible for a crash looking down right before impact. Unfortunately, despite the passge of House Bill 753, we never see tickets for "Distracted Driving" issued to the negligent drivers. I routinely see Maryland drivers yacking away on their handheld devices while driving with (At most) one hand.
Thus, at Clark and Steinhorn, we have concluded that efforts to reduce or eliminate car and truck crashes which stem from distracted driving, have not been very effective.
MHSO expresses a future hope that crash reporting systems like ACRS (Automated Crash Reporting System) will provide more data to help identify the causes of deadly crashes and the role that distracted driving plays in them.
Tomorrow we focus on pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle safety on Maryland's roadways.