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The week before the new state law taking effect today (Friday), which requires a driver’s hands to be free while talking on a cell phone, Harford County experienced a near tragedy last Friday when a school bus was hit by another vehicle and knocked over on Route 155 in Havre de Grace. The bus didn’t cause the accident — one of two other vehicles involved, an SUV and a sedan, did — but it was nonetheless a scary moment. And as some of us who have covered the news in Harford County for more than a few years took note, when was the last time a local school bus was in a crash where the impact knocked the bus onto its side?

Fortunately, none of the six students on board nor their driver was seriously injured. Police said the bus was first struck by an Audi which had crossed the center line, causing the bus to veer and then hit an SUV that had pulled over to the side of the road. The SUV’s driver got the worst of it and had to be taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. In their preliminary investigation, police said they don’t believe weather played a role in the collision even though it was foggy; however, failure to give full time and attention is listed as a circumstance that contributed to the crash.

Then, early Sunday morning in Jarrettsville, a man driving a motorcycle was killed and his passenger seriously injured after the bike hit a curb and went out of control and crashed. Alcohol may have been a factor in this crash, the spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said, but that hasn’t been determined conclusively at this writing.

What do the new law ending holding and talking on a phone while driving, the school bus crash in Havre de Grace and the fatal motorcycle accident in Jarrettsville have in common? Plenty, actually, and none of it good.

The new law is yet another attempt in Maryland to cut down on distracted driving. It was championed by the same Abingdon couple, the Hurds, who were behind last year’s law banning texting while driving. Their daughter, Heather, was killed in an accident in Florida involving a truck whose driver admitted he was texting when the trash occurred. While we support both laws and the intent behind them, the truth is there’s no foolproof statutory remedy for distracted driving. Cell phones and texting have obviously become major causes of this problem but, seriously, who is going to legislate against switching radio stations, combing hair, lighting up a smoke, applying makeup, shaving, reading or daydreaming, just to mention a few of hundreds of distractions that can occur behind the wheel? It’s no different from speeding or reckless driving or, for that matter, driving while intoxicated. There are plenty of laws against doing all three, but people still do all three.

When you get behind the wheel, you have a responsibility to be awake, sober and to pay attention at all times.

Unfortunately, in Harford County this year there have been too many instances in which drivers have done none or only some of the above and the consequences have been terrible, often fatal.


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