Number of drivers ticketed for using handheld cell phones jumps nearly 6 times in one month

BALTIMORE - We all know the dangers and we've heard the warnings but, still, we see distracted drivers on the road.

"We were stopped in traffic due to a previous accident. When suddenly, we were struck from behind by an SUV going 62 m.p.h.," said Susan Yum.

All it takes is a split second.

"The driver was so distracted that when he hit our car he had not even applied his brakes," Yum said.

It's a nightmare the Baltimore mother lives with everyday. Her 5-year-old son Jake Owen was killed simply because a driver didn't put down his phone.

But according to the National Safety Council, there are millions of other people who aren't hanging up either. NSC creates a yearly estimate of cell phone crashes because they say it's underreported. Typically, they say, police rely on driver self reports and eye-witness accounts. In 2012, 21 percent or 1.2 million crashes involved handheld and hands-free cell phones. Texting alone added another 281,000 crashes to that number.

"It's not something that's happening once in a while. It's starting to happen more and more. And we feel very comfortable using our phones in the car, but the reality is it's very dangerous," said Del. Luke Clippinger.

Using handheld cell phones behind the wheel became a primary offense in Maryland last October. The change meant that if you're spotted using your phone while driving, you can be pulled over and ticketed.

"A person who is legally drunk is going to be able to stop and has the attention to be able to stop football fields before somebody who's got a phone up and is texting," Clippinger said.

In September 2013, 615 Maryland drivers got a ticket for using a handheld cell phone. One month later, when it became a primary offense, citations jumped nearly six times that number to 3,660.

"This is making the public more aware [and] making law enforcement more aware. And as we become more aware, we see the dangers of it and that becomes a focus and we want to keep the roadways safe," said Sgt. Marc Black, a Maryland State Police spokesperson.

But policing it isn't always easy.

"They know it's a police vehicle. They know it's a violation. Most people are not going to be blatant and just continue to do so. If they see the police coming up, they do what they can to either correct the violation or hide the violation," Sgt. Black said.

In Focus Investigators joined State Police for a ride along, but when we drove in the marked car down the highway, most people had their hands clutched on the wheel.

"I've seen people as I come up behind them drop their phone into their lap, throw it into their passenger seat, things of that nature to try to conceal what they are doing," said Sgt. Black.

We went out in our own unmarked vehicle, and it wasn't two miles down the road before we saw distracted driving.

"I see people talking on their handheld cell phones. Weaving in and out, slowing, then speeding up," Yum said.

For Susan Yum it's a reminder every day of five-year-old Jake and the messages and conversations that can wait.

"I think about his last words everyday. While he was playing his game, he said, 'Mom, I have 43 lives!' And I think about the irony of those words. Everyday," she said.

Since the crash, Yum teamed up with Delegate Clippinger to get Jake's Law passed. The law states that if you are at fault in an accident that results in death or serious bodily injury because you were talking without a hands-free device or texting, you face a criminal penalty of up to a year in jail, up to a $5,000 fine, and 12 points on your license.

 


Comments