Don't sneak a peek at your text messages when you're stopped at a traffic light or stuck in traffic in Maryland. As of Oct. 1, Maryland has banned the reading of text messages while driving.
Maryland legislators outlawed the sending of text messages while driving back in 2009 but didn't forbid drivers from reading them. Safe-driving advocates continued to push for a total texting ban, however, and lawmakers passed a new law prohibiting any type of text messaging for drivers -- sending or reading -- in its 2011 legislative session.
Maryland's new law makes any kind of texting while driving a primary offense, which means police can pull you over for that violation alone. Drivers caught reading or sending texts can be fined $70 and may also get a point on their licenses. If the texting contributes to an accident, however, the penalty is greater: a $110 fine and three points on the driver's license.
The Maryland law makes exceptions if drivers are reading GPS navigational directions on their phones or contacting 911 to report an emergency.
Maryland is one of 33 states to make text messaging while driving a primary traffic offense, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The District of Columbia and Guam have similar laws. In two other states, text messaging is a secondary offense, meaning drivers can be charged with that violation only if police officers have another reason to pull them over.
Texting while driving is a serious safety issue. In a study released in October 2011 by the Texas Transportation Institute, researchers showed that a driver's reaction time is doubled when that driver is distracted by reading or sending a text message. The study was the first published work in the United States that looked at the issue in a real (not simulated) driving environment.
Researchers had the study participants -- 42 drivers between ages 16 and 54 -- navigate two sections of a test track. One track section was wide open, but the other was lined with construction barrels. As drivers drove the track, researchers noted their reaction time to periodic flashing lights.
Drivers made two circuits of the track, the first time without texting and the second time while texting. It took drivers between one and two seconds to react to the flashing light when they weren't texting, but at least three or four seconds to react when they were texting.
Researchers weren't picking only on drivers who text, however; they said their findings could be equally applied to other activities that distract drivers, including reading, writing, checking email or visiting Facebook.