‘Only Fools Text and Drive Day’: Baltimore and D.C.-Area Moms Join National Movement
A demonstration asks mothers to drive with their lights on in the daylight on April Fool's Day to remind people not to text and drive.
Mothers across the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., suburbs will be driving with their lights on during the day on April Fool's Day to raise awareness about the dangers of texting and driving.
The women join others across the country in a national demonstration called “Only Fools Text and Drive Day,”organized by The Mommies Network, a nonprofit organization that helps mothers find support in their communities.
“A lot of us are driving around with little ones and worried about the other crazy drivers on the road,” said Reisterstown’s Emily Erickson Mullinix, a member of Baltimoremommies.com, a regional networking organization with 455 registered members that is a chapter of the national group.
Women participating in the campaign said eliminating texting and driving is the cause du jour of the new generation of mothers, similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the nonprofit organization that formed in 1980 and is aimed at increasing awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Police in Maryland compared the developing education and enforcement campaigns designed to stop texting and driving to those that have been waged to convince people to wear seatbelts, which officials said now has a compliance rate of more than 90 percent.
“If you remind [people] how dangerous an activity can be, it eventually sinks in,” said Carroll County Sheriff Ken Tregoning. “Sooner or later, they will have a friend, relative or acquaintance who is injured in an accident as a result of texting. It hits home, ‘Hey this could happen to me.’ We have to keep reminding them.”
It is illegal in Maryland to use a handheld cell phone while a vehicle is in motion, and drivers face a misdemeanor charge and a maximum fine of $500.
Maryland legislators are considering changes to the cell phone and driving law that would make cell phone use illegal anytime a car is in the travel portion of the road, regardless of whether it is idling at a traffic light.
Proposed changes to the law also include prohibitions against reading text messages in the car; the current law only prohibits writing or sending texts while operating a vehicle.
Police around the region applauded Friday’s grassroots campaign, which they said comes as people continue to flout the law and text while commuting.
“I think texting [while driving] continues,” said Montgomery County Police Officer Howard Hersh. “The law has helped, and we are certainly enforcing it, but the violations continue, and the injuries and the property damage continue.
“The kids who grew up texting and now have a driver’s license--this is a secondary activity for them,” he said. “They don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, unless they are educated.”
Felicia Powers, a mother of a 4-year-old son from Elkridge, said she’s seen an increase in texting and driving since Maryland passed the law that took effect in 2010 prohibiting handheld cell phone use on the road.
“People are using texting as an alternative without the obvious phone to the ear. It’s more of a distraction than talking,” said Powers, a member of Baltimoremommies.com who will be driving Friday with her lights on.
And, she added, distracted driving doesn’t just come in the form of texting.
“I was driving down Snowden River Parkway [in Columbia] to pick up my son in preschool, and there was a woman who was driving and knitting,” she said. “I am also against knitting while driving.”
Since the cell phone and driving law was passed in Maryland, Baltimore County Police Lt. Robert McCullough said police have seen fewer people driving and talking or using the phone, but the practice still continues.
“On any given day, you can drive through the Baltimore metropolitan area, and unfortunately, still see people driving and attempting to either text while they’re driving or attempting to use other functions on their phones. … and you can empirically see a difference in their ability to control their vehicle.
“I think anything that’s done in good taste and safely that bring about awareness to the problem is a good thing,” he said of Friday’s campaign.
The issue has also been a focus for law enforcement in Prince George’s County, where police last year created a special traffic unit that assigned more officers to enforce traffic laws in areas with high crash rates.
“We have officers around the clock working to discourage individuals from texting while driving as well as enforcing the other laws,” said Prince George’s County Police Corp. Larry Johnson.
Howard County Police Chief William McMahon also applauded the grassroots efforts among mothers to educate about the dangers of texting and driving, but he said mothers are among those also disobeying the law.
“I’ll be honest, I see lots of moms in minivans with a car seat in the back, on their phone, driving,” he said. “The message needs to get out for all drivers.”
McMahon also said state laws need to change to make using the cell phone in the car a primary offense.
Right now, it’s a secondary offense, which means officers need another reason besides just the cell phone use to pull someone over.
The Friday campaign also involves a online video that shows footage of children asking their parents to put down their cell phones when they are behind the wheel.
Katherine Lally, from Pikesville, said she was driving near Catonsville recently when she saw a teen who was looking down at his phone hit a barrier that separated the north and southbound sections of Interstate 695.
“It was scraping and sparking the whole way,” said Lally, who has two young children. “Once you have a child, you take them on the road and you wish everyone would do the best they can to get to point A to point B.”