Why is Texting at a Traffic Light Dangerous?

Posted on
Texting Traffic Light

In Maryland, it is prohibited by law to use a handheld phone while driving. This includes not only sending a text to someone but also writing or reading any texts or electronic messages. Many people are so used to holding a phone all day that waiting for a long traffic light seems like an ideal time to check for texts or email, but texting at a traffic light is just as dangerous as texting while the vehicle is in motion, and it is also against the law. Distracted driving in the form of texting or other behaviors is a major cause of car accidents and personal injury.

Studies Show Texting at Lights has a Hangover Effect

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety urges drivers to put away their phones while behind the wheel. They cite the phenomenon named the hangover effect by researchers who found that drivers texting at red lights continue to be distracted for as long as 27 seconds after the light has changed from red to green. During the time when the driver is hungover from texting, they have no clear knowledge of what is going on around them, and a busy intersection can be full of pedestrians, bicyclists, and of course other vehicles. Often a driver who is texting does not even realize the light has changed to green and the cars waiting behind it start to honk angrily. The sudden honking can startle the texting driver into stepping on the gas without looking to see if the path is clear and result in an accident that injures or kills another person.

Why are Cellphones So Distracting?

Distracted driving is extremely dangerous and is a common cause of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the act of driving is a distraction, and that includes eating, drinking, putting on makeup, changing the radio station, programming navigation systems, and using a cellphone. Distractions fall into three categories: manual, visual, and cognitive:

  • A manual distraction takes the driver’s hands off the wheel, such as eating a snack.
  • A visual distraction takes the driver’s eyes off the road, such as searching for a fallen object in the car.
  • A cognitive distraction takes the driver’s mind off the act of driving, such as carrying on a discussion with a passenger.

Some types of distraction, such as using a cellphone, involve all three categories, manual, visual, and cognitive, and these distractions are the most dangerous because the driver is truly not present in the act of driving. Their hands are holding the phone, their eyes are focused on the screen and keyboard, and their mind is composing and sending a text. No wonder that it may take almost half a minute in some cases for the driver’s mind to return to the fact that they are sitting at an intersection in traffic. Some may argue that 10 or 20 seconds is not that long, but the AAA reminds drivers that in a car traveling on a highway, five seconds of reading an email is like driving the length of an entire football field with closed eyes.

The Effects of Peripheral Traffic

Drivers who text at red lights may be affected by what happens around them. They think they are multi-tasking and aware of when traffic restarts from what they observe in their peripheral vision. The problem with this is that cars often inch forward before the light changes as they anticipate the green light. Someone texting may see the car next to them move and assume it is time to drive when in fact the light is still red. They could easily hit a pedestrian or enter the intersection as the cross traffic still has a green light and cause an accident.

The same thing could happen if the intersection has many lanes with different signals such as straight arrows and turning arrows that turn green at different times. A driver who is texting may observe the peripheral traffic moving and step on the gas to join the flow when only the adjacent lane has a green light/arrow and the others are still waiting for theirs.

How can Drivers Avoid the Temptation to Use a Cellphone While Driving?

There are many steps drivers can take to stay safe while driving and avoid distractions such as cellphones. It is easiest to keep phones out of sight and away while driving. If the phone absolutely must stay within reach, drivers should turn on the Do Not Disturb function so that contacts know the driver cannot engage in conversation. If possible, motorists can designate a passenger to take any calls that cannot wait. When there is no passenger available, the cellphone should be used only for emergencies, and then it is best to pull over to the shoulder and stop to make a call. For vehicles with complicated navigation and entertainment systems, drivers should program everything before the trip starts and be familiar with the route to ensure that there will be no distractions during the trip.

What are the Penalties in Maryland for Texting While Driving?

In Maryland, drivers are prohibited from using a handheld cellphone and texting while driving. The only exceptions to this are in the case of emergency calls to 911, a hospital, an ambulance service provider, a first aid squad, a fire department, or law enforcement.

For writing, sending, or reading a text or electronic message while driving, a driver can be ticketed and fined $70 and one point on their license. If the use of the device caused an accident, the fine is $110 and three points.

For using the cellphone while driving, fines are court costs plus a maximum of $83 for the first offense, a maximum of $140 for second-time offenders, and a maximum of $160 for the third offense. Points are given if the offense results in an accident.

Jake’s Law provides for a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine up to $5,000 for any driver who causes serious injury or death while talking on a handheld cell phone or texting.

In Maryland, distracted driving contributes to 45 percent of all motor vehicle accidents. These accidents have a high rate of injury. Nearly 85 percent of all the accidents related to distracted driving happened in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas. Distracted drivers who have an accident are more likely to be between the ages of 21 and 29 and male. More than half of the distracted drivers in Maryland car accidents were male and accounted for 80 percent of those killed in an accident related to distracted driving.

Common Injuries from Car Accidents

Texting at a red light could cause an accident that causes injuries such as broken bones, lacerations, head injuries, neck injuries, back injuries, spinal cord injuries, damage to internal organs, and death. Even minor injuries can result in chronic conditions, and serious injuries can alter a victim’s life forever and affect their ability to earn a living and enjoy life.

Seeking compensation for injuries suffered in a car accident could mean recovering damages that cover the cost of medical bills, recovery bills, physical therapy and mental health counseling, present and future lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages where appropriate. Families who have lost a loved one may be able to file a suit for wrongful death. A reputable car accident lawyer can provide experienced counsel on the best course of legal action.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Fight for Those Injured in Distracted Driving Accidents

Using a cellphone or texting while driving is against the law and endangers everyone on the road. If you were injured or have lost a loved one in an accident caused by the negligence of another driver, the skilled Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help. We have decades of experience investigating car accidents in Maryland and have a reputation for success. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation about your case.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.