Courtesy: MyEasternShoreMD

Maryland State Police continue to make enforcement of distracted driving laws a top priority. Troopers issued significantly more citations and warnings over the first six months of 2017 compared to the same time last year, according to an MSP news release.

Between Jan. 1 and July 1, Maryland state troopers issued a combined 20,762 warnings and citations, compared to 17,718 over an identical time period in 2016.

This included 10,158 citations and 10,604 warnings this year, compared to 9,126 citations and 8,592 warnings in 2016, according to the news release.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration defines distracted driving as any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, and adjusting the stereo, entertainment or navigation systems.

Every time a driver takes his eyes off the road and focuses his attention on something else, he is endangering himself, those in his vehicle and everyone else on the road around him.

It has been estimated that a person texting takes his eyes off the road for an average of five seconds, according to an MSP news release. This is like covering the length of a football field while driving blindfolded if you are driving 55 mph.

The Maryland Highway Safety Office estimated an average of 30,000 people are injured or killed each year in crashes linked to distracted driving. The NHTSA reported that in 2015, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

The increased enforcement effort comes after the passage of Jake’s Law. In effect since 2014, Jake’s Law is named after Jake Owen, who was 5 years old when he was killed in a car crash caused by a distracted driver in 2011. The law states that a driver causing serious injury or death while talking on a handheld cellphone or texting may receive up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. These are primary offenses and police officers can stop drivers when those activities are observed, regardless of the presence of other violations.

State troopers are encouraging drivers to do their part to keep our highways safe. Motorists should identify what distracts them when they drive and recognize the significant danger those distractions cause. It is important to eliminate those distractions whenever you are behind the wheel.