We’ve all been there. A friend or family member picks up a cellphone while driving, drives aggressively, drives without a seat belt, or gets behind the wheel after drinking. Many of us feel uncomfortable with these behaviors but don’t say anything for fear of causing tension or discomfort. The reality is that you have entrusted these drivers with your safety and their dangerous behavior puts everyone in the car at risk, as well as those sharing the road.

Every year in Maryland, more than 58,000 passengers are involved in a motor vehicle crash resulting in more than 12,000 injuries. Among the passengers killed, 39 percent were not wearing a seat belt. Additionally, of the 6,600 impaired driving crashes that occur in Maryland each year, an average of 748 passengers are injured and 32 are killed, 41 percent of whom were not belted. If a passenger sees any of the following situations, it’s imperative to “Be the Back Seat Driver” – speak up and ask the driver to adjust their behavior. If you ever feel unsafe, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1 for assistance.

  • Excessive Speeding: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding was a contributing factor in 29% of all traffic fatalities in 2020. The detrimental effects of speeding can include: greater potential for loss of vehicle control; reduced effectiveness of occupant protection equipment; the need for increased stopping distance after the driver perceives a danger; and the increased degree of crash severity, leading to more severe injuries. It’s also important to remember that speed affects your safety even when you are driving at the speed limit but too fast for road conditions, such as during bad weather, when a road is under repair, or in an area at night that isn’t well lit.
  • Impaired Driving: Impairment from drugs or alcohol can slow the reaction time of the driver, impair the judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination. Drivers should avoid all alcohol and drug use prior to getting behind the wheel. Taking advantage of ride-sharing options is a safe alternative.
  • Failure to Wear a Seat Belt: It takes three seconds to buckle up. Remember that seat belts are your first line of defense in the event of a crash. Even with technological advances and airbags – which are meant to work in conjunction with seat belts – failure to wear a seat belt contributes to about one of every three motor vehicle fatalities on Maryland roadways.
  • Improper Passing: While it may seem like it will get you to your destination faster, excessive weaving between vehicles and lanes is dangerous for all motorists. Drivers are reminded to pass on the left, use turn signals, and drive at a reasonable speed based on the current weather conditions.

Let’s face it, your friends and family are much more likely to listen to your concerns about their driving habits than any public service announcement. Hearing that you’re scared to ride with them when they speed or text while driving may not get an immediate reaction — but you may plant a seed that causes them to reevaluate their choices behind the wheel. Explaining the danger that they create for themselves; their passengers and other roadway users just might be the push they need to alter their behavior.

The first step is up to you. Be The Backseat Driver and help us save lives on Maryland’s roadways.