Editor’s Note: This week we are revisiting posts and topics that are still relevant and important today.
You have heard it everywhere: texting while driving is bad. With all types of mobile phones becoming more and more accessible to average, everyday people, car accidents involving distracted driving have shot up and become the topic of conversation between lobbyists, concerned parents, citizens, and lawmakers. There have been many successful attempts to change laws and add measures to punish and deter people from driving distracted. If you’re concerned about finding yourself the target of distracted driving allegations, read on to learn more about:
- “Handheld Telephone” Laws and Penalties By Driving Level;
- The Other Forms of Distracted Driving and Whether They Carry Legal Implications; and
- Further Legal Consequences and How to Defend a Charge in Maryland.
Cellphones: When You Can and Cannot Use Them on The Road
Distracted Driving is any activity that diverts your attention away from driving that places other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians in danger.
Though there are multiple types of distractions, the nationwide push to end texting while driving or the use of a ‘handheld telephone’ typically comes to mind before any others. Maryland is no different: Maryland’s Legal Code regarding Transportation details clearly the general and specific rules for cellphone use—coming after a push by lawmakers for stricter punishments.
To obtain a learner’s permit in Maryland, the youngest you can be is 15 years and nine months. However, the laws are much stricter for minor drivers. When it comes to texting and driving, any driver under the age of 18 faces up to a 90-day license suspension if caught doing so. The only acceptable use of a phone behind the wheel for a minor is to contact 9-1-1.
Rules for adult drivers are not too dissimilar, but, unlike minors, adults are allowed to talk on the phone while driving. The only times an adult may use their hands to use a cellphone is to answer or end a call or turn the cellphone off entirely. Other than that, texting or using other functions of the phone are not within the law.
Like minors, there is an exception for emergency use for adults if you need to make a call to 9-1-1 (or any like-type of resource).
It is important to note, too, that any adults holding either a learner’s permit or provisional driver’s license may not use a cellphone at all. When you do obtain a full license, the above rules will apply.
First offenders caught using a cellphone while driving may see up to $75 in fines, whereas second and third offenses rise to $125 and $175.
What Other Types of Driving Are “Distracted?”
There are other forms of distracted driving that are not as penalized as texting while driving.
- Eating and drinking is technically considered distracted driving, but it will not cost you hundreds of dollars in fines if ‘caught.’ Chances are, a police officer won’t even pull you over for eating while driving.
- GPS Systems are not penalized legally, but if too distracting, they could lead to accidents and future legal issues stemming from those accidents.
- Reading anything—texts, maps, or even GPS directions—is highly distracting, and could lead to penalties or accidents.
- Switching songs on the radio is considered distracted driving, but since the advent of AUX cords and FM transmitters, using phones as your music source is not uncommon. If caught using your phone while driving for this purpose, there’s a strong chance the officer will not see the difference between changing a song on Spotify and texting.
When it comes to driving, exercise as much caution as possible. Though you might think texting-while-driving fines are ‘low,’ you don’t want to risk getting in an accident that costs you your life or the life of someone else.
The latter of the two possibilities may leave you with a mountain of legal trouble.
When a Text Turns Terrifying: The Legal Consequences of a Distracted Car Accident
An accident may occur in many ways, but a distracted driving accident may be labeled grossly negligent. If prosecuted, you may be facing vehicular manslaughter charges.
What constitutes vehicular manslaughter? It requires proof the driver showed a conscious disregard for the risk to human life posed by their actions. This may include, if provable, that the driver was texting while driving.
Manslaughter-by-vehicle is a felony crime carrying up to 10 years in prison or a maximum fine of $5,000.
You also don’t want to get involved in a distracted driving accident that leads to a hit-and-run charge. Charges for leaving behind any injured person at a scene carry up to 5 years in prison and upwards of $5,000 in fines.
In recent years, over-50,000 crashes in Maryland were distracted driving-related, with over a quarter of those involving serious injury. Though only a little over 150 involved death, you never want to be the one behind the wheel with a phone in your hand.
Maryland’s Jake’s Law went into effect in 2014 in an effort to curtail and punish distracted driving-related accidents. Prior to 2014, drivers only faced a $1,000 fine for causing a distracted driving-related accident—now it’s upwards of $5,000 and a year in prison.
There are, however, legal options to defend against an accident or distracted driving charge. Chances are, you might not have hard evidence like a Blood Alcohol Content test to refute. Your attorney will rather look at things like witness testimony, your own health factors, and what alternative factors could have caused the crash.
Maryland is one of the only states in the country with contributory negligence, which holds that only innocent—meaning fully innocent—drivers can recover money from accidents. In other words, if you are alleged at fault for an accident, but you can prove the other driver had some level of fault in the crash, they cannot collect any recovery money from you through legal means.
That small fault might be a cyclist on the wrong side of the road, the other driver speeding or disregarding traffic laws on their own, jaywalking as a civilian, or riding in a car you know is defective as a passenger. The negligence on the part of the plaintiff in the case must have contributed to the accident at hand for you to avoid recovery.
If you are facing any type of driving charges, contact our offices for a free initial consultation. You do not want to face any of the charges in this blog; all could have a significant negative impact on your life if not properly addressed in a court of law. So, call us today to better your chances at keeping your free future.