Put the phone down while driving

Guest Column

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Knudson is Fort Meade’s provost marshal and director of the Directorate of Emergency Services.

Last Tuesday afternoon, several of you driving down Mapes Road toward Route 32 probably saw what you thought was some random guy in camouflage walking the road or hanging out at the intersection at O’Brien.

How do I know this? Because of the notifications that came in about a suspicious person. Kudos to those who saw something and said something. That random individual was me, your friendly neighborhood director of Emergency Services!

As you probably know, we’ve been having traffic backups getting folks off post in the afternoon rush hour. Your installation leadership, including me and others in the DES, are working to reduce these problems.

We face a daunting task — how to safely and efficiently get more than 30,000 people out of four gates onto two busy state routes in a relatively short span of time.

This led me to walk out to the intersection of Mapes and O’Brien. While there, I timed the lights to see if the green/red cycles were exacerbating the problem. The light is on a one-minute green cycle, meaning Mapes is green for one minute, then O’Brien is green for one minute. So for outbound traffic on Mapes, it’s only two minutes between the start of one green cycle and the next.

What else did I find out? During that one minute when the light is red, folks really like to get on their cellphones. So much so that even after the light turns green, they are focused more on their phones than on driving. I also saw quite a number of drivers who were busy on their phone while driving, whether staring at their phone in their laps or holding their phones in front of their face. Attention was on the phone, not on the road.

So here’s what I ask: Please focus on your driving, not your phone. This is for your benefit as well as your fellow drivers. I know — it’s hard to ignore your phone, especially when you’re stuck in traffic. So what’s in it for you? Why should you put down the phone?

Talking or texting on a cellphone without a hands-free device while driving is unsafe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 16 percent of vehicle accidents in 2012 involved drivers distracted by cellphones, resulting in 3,328 deaths and approximately 421,000 injuries.

The numbers are similar in years since. In 2014, 3,179 were killed and approximately 431,000 were injured. In 2015, 3,477 were killed and approximately 391,000 were injured.The National Safety Council notes that drivers using hand-held cellphones are four times more likely to get in a vehicle accident and that an estimated 25 percent of vehicle accidents involve cellphones. Furthermore, they identified that distracted drivers suffer from inattention blindness, meaning they miss up to 50 percent of visual information in their environment. Missed driving cues increases potential for accidents.

Texting or talking on a phone without a hands-free device while driving runs counter to the Department of Defense and Army. Using a cellphone while driving violates Presidential Executive Order 13513, DoD Instruction 6055.04, Army Regulation 385-10, and IMCOM and Fort Meade guidance and policies.

There’s a reason for these regulations. Given that distracted driving is the leading cause of vehicle accidents, the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center has a safety campaign urging drivers to turn off the phone, then place it out of reach.

Texting or talking on a phone without a hands-free device while driving is against the law. Holding your cell while driving is a primary offense, which means a police officer can pull you over simply for that.

Texting while driving violates Maryland Transportation Article 1124.1b and can result in a $70 fine per offense. If you cause an accident while texting, that fine increases to $110. Holding a cellphone while driving violates Maryland Transportation Article 1124.2d2 and can result in fines of $83 for a first offense, $140 for a second offense and $160 for a third offense.

In 2014 Maryland passed Jake’s Law, which results in up to three years in jail, a $5,000 fine, and potential suspended license for a driver who kills or seriously injures someone while driving distracted.

Remember, Maryland traffic laws apply on Fort Meade. Talking or texting on a cellphone while driving causes delays. Distracted drivers staring at their phones instead of the road ahead are less likely to see a recently changed green light, which delays proceeding through the intersection.

Distracted drivers can miss up to 50 percent of visual cues such as green lights. Distracted drivers have increased reaction times, meaning it can take between three to 10 seconds to react to a green light.

In 2015, the American Automobile Association found that drivers can remain cognitively distracted up to 27 seconds after using their phone. This adds up. If it takes between three to 20 seconds per distracted driver to react to a traffic light that is only green for one minute, imagine how many cars don’t get through as a result.

I ask you to help us help you and your fellow drivers. Please put down the phone while you’re driving. Encourage your family, friends and co-workers to do the same.,

This will keep everybody safe and legal and, hopefully, maybe get a little bit quicker through the gates.

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