In 2012, Elizabeth May Marks rear ended a tow truck, responding to a text message from her mother. As Elizabeth lay at University of Maryland Medical Center’s shock trauma unit, her mother, Betty Shaw, began keeping this journal:
Written April 16, 2012
Just a personal journal entry,
Monday, 6:00 am. Couldn’t sleep last nite. Outside writing this entry . I am sitting in front of the hotel we are staying in. They bring out small tables and chairs ,yes, for smokers. But it’s early and the air is clear.
A taxi pulls up , the driver is speaking Jamaican , I think? A motorcycle whizzes by, cars speed by , trucks,bikes, and people. Life starts another day.
7:30 and Liz my baby , your Liz starts the first of many reconstructive surgeries for her facial fractures.
My long day is close. I have 90 minutes left of peace. I want these 90 minutes to last forever! Make time stop. My mom is coming up to wait out the surgery with us. God Bless this woman. she has been through 2 hard years. Two long hard years. My dad , her husbands of 52 years, died this past Nov. She gave him the best love , support and care a woman , a wife could give. We buried him on my 50th birthday, Nov. 14th.
NOW STOP I know what you are thinking , poor Betty, Oh this poor lady, stop! I know my journey is hard , but it could be a lot worse. Liz could not be here on earth. She could be in the heavens. But she is not. So far God has not chosen the path for me. But he did chose that path for this one woman I know. Someone I know every well. What a strong , courageous woman she is. I need to talk to her. But when the time is right. Then she will know why. the time is 6:27, 63 minutes of peace left. I miss my girl, I miss my girl.
Please Please pray for my Liz! I feel selfish asking , A lot of my prays have been answered. But as a mother I am going to ask And ask, and ask. She is the joy of my life.
The surgery will be 6 to 8 hours. It is now 7:58.
Less than two decades ago, a law concerning distracted driving would not have been necessary. The issue of distracted driving existed, but was not of prominent importance.
Now, in the age of the text message, the issue is everywhere.
41 states have banned texting while driving, and 12 states have banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving altogether. Maryland has joined this national war on distracted driving.
This fall, the use of handheld cell phones while driving became a primary offense for all Maryland drivers. As of Oct. 1, police officers can give a traffic citation to drivers using handheld cell phones, without any other probable cause. This is a change in the previous law, which prevented officers from citing drivers for texting unless they were committing a separate offense first.
Drivers who get caught using a handheld cell phone while driving are now subject to fines between $83 and $160.
Delegate James E. Malone Jr. was the primary sponsor of the new legislation. Malone worked with the House Environmental Matters Committee to help get the bill passed.
Delegate Steven J. Deboy, Sr., a co-signer of the bill, says the law gained lots of support simply because of its good common sense.
“Whether you’re a democrat or a republican or a conservative or a liberal, it’s easy to see it’s just common sense that you shouldn’t be doing that,” Deboy says.
Before cell phone legislation became relevant, distracted drivers could be cited with reckless or negligent driving. Deboy says the new law targets a very specific offense – cell phone usage behind the wheel.
“There’s a lot of things that could make you drive negligently or recklessly. But with technology changing, they just felt this [law] specifically narrows something down for cell phone use,” Deboy says.
Aside from issuing stricter penalties to drivers using cell phones, the law will also seek to reduce traffic fatalities caused by distracted drivers.
In 2011, 231 fatalities in Maryland were the result of distracted driving, making up almost half of all traffic fatalities in the state. Another 29,050 people were injured.
The new law will aim to fight these statistics, so that some people don’t have to learn the dangers of distracted driving the hard way.
It’s a warm, sunny, spring Saturday on April 7, 2012 – just one day before Easter – and 17 year-old Elizabeth May Marks is on her way to work. She’s due in at 11 a.m.
Marks, an honor roll student and a senior at St. Michaels High School, is a server at Rusticana Pizza on Talbot Road in St. Michaels, Md. Having stayed at her best friend Kayla’s house the night before, the golden-haired, worry-free teenager walks out the door in her uniform at around 10:30 a.m. Kayla’s house is just 15 or so minutes away from her restaurant.
She’s cruising along in her gray, 2011 Mazda 3 at about 45 mph on St. Michaels Road on state Rout 33 when she receives a text message. Without hesitation, she reaches for her phone… It’s her mother.
“Where are you?”
Innocently, she promptly responds via text…
“Going to work”
She’s just minutes away…
Meanwhile, out of sight and out of mind, just ahead on the same road, waiting patiently to turn onto Whales Lane, sits a red, 1987 Custom Ford F350 rollback. The driver of the tow truck is 25-year-old St. Michaels resident Roy Owen Dixon. His break lights are lit and his left turn signal blinks a bright red.
Soon thereafter, Marks’s phone chimes with another text. Once again, Marks looks down… Her mother has answered back.
How much time actually passes, no one is quite sure. Unfortunately, what is certain is, that by the time she manages to lift her eyes from her phone, it’s terribly too late.
Because of the height of the vehicle and the angle in which she swerves, the frontend of the Mazda barely makes impact, except with the tow truck’s rear right tires. The driver’s side airbag never deploys. The right corner of the rollback rips up the hood and violently crashes through the windshield of Marks’ car, caving in the left side of her skull and pinning her inside the vehicle. The impact of the collision has collapsed her left lung and busted an artery. Her lungs are slowly filling with blood.
While the driver of the tow truck is severely shaken up, he is uninjured.
Several passing drivers witness the accident and immediately phone for help.
These types of collisions happen almost every day, and Maryland law enforcement is ready to change that.
Since Oct. 1, Maryland’s new law has received immense support from the men and women who have the power to enforce it – police officers.
In recent weeks, police across the state have made the law’s implementation a priority, to ensure that drivers make it a priority as well.
Earlier this month, Baltimore County police officers tackled the law by seeking out texting drivers on York Road.
Officers in Montgomery County are also making strides to enforce the new law by standing in intersections and in traffic. A flyer on the Montgomery County government website promotes the slogan “Hang Up or Hands Free: It’s Maryland Law”.
“We’re trying to change people’s behavior behind the wheel of a car,” says Officer John Romack, a veteran Montgomery County police officer.
Romack says that the media was effective in increasing the public’s awareness of the new law. Road signs were promptly put in place heeding the warning: “State Law: No Texting, No Hand Held Cell Phone”. Still, Romack finds that some drivers are incompliant.
“You see a lot of people now…when you pull up to them and hit your siren, if they’re on the phone, they put it down immediately,” Romack says. “They know the law’s out there. They know they’re wrong.”
Romack says it is clear that using a cell phone while driving is both a physical and cognitive distraction.
“It slows your reflexes. Even if you look back up, you don’t really know totally what’s going on,” he says. “What is your brain is thinking is not driving; it’s thinking sports or Yahoo!”
Many Maryland police motor reconstruction units have taken increased efforts to subpoena phone records in collisions where the driver may have been texting. This “traceability” factor will further help the state to enforce distracted driving restrictions.
A new electronic ticketing system has also been helpful to officers trying to enforce the law in a fair manner. The new system will quickly alert officers if a driver was previously pulled over for using a cell phone. This will prevent police officers from giving out more than one warning to repeat offenders.
“Everyone deserves a warning, but if you’re not going to listen to the warning, that’s when the paper needs to be written,” Romack says.
“It’s not to be mean, it’s to be corrective.”
No one wants to pay a hefty fine, but Romack says he believes that a traffic citation is a much better lesson than suffering the consequences of an accident.
Paramedics, State Police and firemen all rush to the scene.
EMT’s determine Marks is alive, but is in critical condition. She may not survive unless she is stabilized quickly. Though they are hopeful, they aren’t confident she will live. Maryland State Police have already dispatched a medevac.
St. Michaels Firemen use the jaws-of-life – an hydraulic rescue tool commonly used to bend, pry and cut steel – to extricate Marks from her mangled car. While they are careful so not to move her and risk further injury, it’s an urgent situation and time is of the essence. Seconds could cost the girl her life.
Once she is delicately removed from the wreckage, Marks is quickly flown to shock trauma at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.
Marks’s mother, Betty Shaw, vividly recounts seeing the police officer at her door on that fateful April morning in 2012.
“I can just picture him right there. I remember coming down the hallway and screaming at him when I saw him, ‘Is she alive? Is she alive?’ And he said, ‘Yes, but it doesn’t look good.’ And he put his head down. And then I just lost it and screamed, ‘My life is over. My life is over.’”
While on her way with her husband to UMMC, she also remembers getting the call from the shock trauma center.
“My heart dropped,” Shaw says. “I thought they were going tell me she didn’t make it.”
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all.
Although the situation is bleak, there is hope. Although she has sustained a severe skull fracture from her left eye socket to her right ear, a collapsed left lung, and an acute frontal brain injury, with the assistance of an oxygen tube, her daughter, Elizabeth, is breathing.
Although the prognosis is uncertain, doctors are confident that if they can keep her stable and ward off injection from the damaged left frontal lobe of her brain, they can save her life.
Marks spends the next three weeks in the intensive care unit at UMMC. She undergoes a dozen surgeries, including an 11-hour procedure to reconstruct her skull. Surgeons use 38 titanium plates to complete this task – 13 in the front and 25 in the back.
While in shock trauma, Marks celebrates her 18th birthday and is granted her high school diploma. All the while, the prayers and support from friends, family and complete strangers never stop pouring in. Her hospital room stays littered with cards and flowers, adorned with love and hope. Her mother never leaves her side.
By the end of April, Marks is responsive and in fair enough condition to be moved out of intensive care. She spends the next three and half months at Kennedy Krieger Rehab Center in Baltimore with around-the-clock care, relearning to swallow, chew, walk, talk, read and write.
It’s too soon to tell how great of an impact Maryland’s new law will have on distracted driving statistics, but legislators and police officers alike are confident that in the long run, its effect will be a positive one.
Delegate Deboy cited several advocacy groups who continue to support the law, including MADD, various insurance companies and AAA.
Of course, with support there is always opposition, and in this case that opposition comes from drivers.
“They don’t want to see new laws passed because they start to think it’s becoming an infringement on their personal freedoms,” Deboy says.
But with 29,050 people getting injured as a result of distracted driving in 2011, many believe that the argument against safety is not a solid one.
“The only way people are definitely going to stop it is when it starts hurting their pocketbook. When it starts hurting their insurance and their driver’s license, then they’ll start putting their phones down,” Officer Romack says.
“People get mad at the police, but the police are saving people from themselves.”
For now, officers across the state will continue to enforce the new penalties, and warn drivers who still wish to text and drive.
“You’ve got to pay attention. Things happen quickly,” Romack says. “You should be looking at the road, looking in front of you, beside you, and not looking at a phone.
It has been over a year since her brush with death, and Elizabeth May Marks is alive and well. Although she cannot remember the crash or anything two weeks prior or after, she has since been made regrettably aware of how it occurred.
Shortly after Marks was flown out, Police officers found her cell phone on the floorboards of her car. Examining the time between her last read text message and her collision, they determine texting while driving is the probable cause of the accident—something Marks admits she was very guilty of.
“My parents warned me,“ says Marks, “but I did it a lot.”
Though she’s back to her cheerful, outgoing self these days, Marks now lives with the consequences of her dangerous habit. She has evident scarring on the left side of her face; she has lost her sense of smell as well as the vision out of her left eye; she also suffers of short-term memory loss.
But in spite of it all, Marks says she’s happy and lives a normal life.
“I’m just grateful to be alive,” Marks says. “I’m just so lucky.”
An aspiring business owner, Marks is now enrolled at Chesapeake Community College in Wye Mills, Md. When Marks isn’t going to class or living life like any ordinary 19 year-old, she’s telling her story.
“I’m not scared to tell my story at all,” says Marks, now a regular public speaker. “I want people to know what can happen if you text and drive.”
Marks now openly shares her cautionary tale with local high school and driving school students in effort to warn them of the inherent dangers of texting while driving.
“Don’t make the same mistake as I did with one simple text message,” Marks warns, “or you’ll end up like me or dead!”
Those interested in helping Marks spread her message are encouraged to visit her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/donttextndrive4lizmarks.