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Students feel force of simulated crash at talk on new safety laws

ANNAPOLIS - John Connor was the first of the Annapolis High School students to try the "seat belt convincer," a machine that allows people to feel the impact of a crash.

The machine, which slants, allows the rider to go down a simulated hill. Once it hits the bumpers at the end of the simulator, it allows the rider, like Connor, to feel the force produced in a crash for a car that is traveling at roughly 12 miles per hour. The Annapolis High junior said the ride was a little bit scary at first.

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AT&T, members from the Maryland Vehicle Administration and police forces from around the state gathered Tuesday to discuss new laws about seat belt safety and cellphone usage.

Seat belts will now be required for everyone in the back seat, and fines have risen from $25 to $50 per offense. Prior to Oct. 1, passengers younger than 16 were not required to wear seat belts in the back seat.

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The cost of driving while using a cellphone without a hands-free device has risen as well. Drivers can receive a fine of up to $75 on the first offense, $125 on the second offense and $175 for the third and subsequent offenses. It is also now a primary offense, meaning if a police officer sees it, he or she does not need another reason like speeding to pull a person over and issue a citation.

Connor was among about 65 students who sat through a presentation on the new laws.

While texting and driving is illegal in the state of Maryland, distracted driving is the leading cause of accidents, Montgomery County Police Captain Thomas Didone said.

The seat belt law has special importance to Didone, whose 15-year-old son died in 2008 from a car crash. His son got into a car of teens with an inexperienced driver. The driver, who had his license for two weeks, struck a tree, which caught on fire. His son wasn't wearing a seat belt and was killed in the crash, he said.

"We didn't think it could happen to us," he said.

He said that when a law is passed, immediately about 20 percent of people begin obeying the new rules and regulations.

Colton Scherger, an 11th-grader at Annapolis High, said while he just got his learner's permit in February, he never looks at his phone while driving anyway.

"I normally turn it off and put it in the [center] console," Scherger said.

Adults are more likely to text and drive, according to a March survey by AT&T. About 49 percent of all adults surveyed admit to texting and driving, compared to 43 percent of teens.

Didone said he likens the problem of distracted driving to a rise in drunk driving in the 1980s and 1990s.

"Texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving," he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study in 2012 found texting and driving is about six times more dangerous than drunk driving. Dialing a phone number takes the driver's eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, which amounts to the length of a football field while driving at 55 miles per hour.

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Didone said while it's a common rule for parents to make sure their kids are buckled in, now it's official.

"Effective today, Mom's law is now Maryland's law," Didone said.

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