When it comes to driving, putting down the phone and the snacks may be among the most important things someone can do.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which is designed to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
All drivers need to take responsibility when it comes to avoiding distracted driving, said Christine Delise, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
According to a recent survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 88 percent of drivers believe that distracted driving is more of a concern than aggressive, drunken or drugged driving.
Between 2012 and 2016, Maryland had 865 deaths and more than 134,000 injuries from crashes that involved distracted drivers, according to the most recent data from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office.
Maryland passed a law in 2013 that made using a hand-held cellphone a primary offense, meaning police could pull drivers over merely for using the phone, rather than having some other reason for the traffic stop.
Many states have similar hands-free phone and texting laws, but the devices have changed much in what they can do and how people interact with them since many of the laws were passed, said Bob Passmore, assistant vice president of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
He said the association’s members write about 44 percent of the auto insurance policies in the United States. His association encourages states to look at their laws and make sure they’re up to date on what constitutes a device.
The law, by serving as a deterrent, is one tool to combat distracted driving, Delise said.
But it’s also important to try to change attitudes about distracted driving, she said.
Society has largely stigmatized drunken driving, but that hasn’t happened for distracted driving, Delise said.
“It’s almost like a social taboo. We all know you shouldn’t drive drunk,” she said.
Distracted driving, however, can be caused by more than just electronic devices, Passmore said.
Anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the road could be a problem, he said.
Along with phones or devices, that could include actions such as eating, shaving or applying makeup, he said.
“A moment’s diversion of your attention can have very serious consequences,” Passmore said.
Distracted driving also creates a risk for workers or road crews who often work near vehicles traveling on the road.
Distraction is the leading cause of crashes in work zones, which often have lower speeds or shifted lanes, said Lindsey Franey, of the State Highway Administration.
The agency trains its employees to always be aware and alert in a work zone.
They also use temporary concrete barriers, cones, barrels, signs and flaggers to help guide motorists through work zones and protect workers, Franey said.
But some employees, such as mobile pothole repairers and litter crews, have little protection and work very close to the road, she said.
The ubiquity of mobile devices, with more people using them at more times during the day, means that everyone has to recognize appropriate times to use them in order to prevent distracted driving, Passmore said.
“It’s more important to get there safely than to send that text or finish that social media post,” he said.