Distracted driving is common on Virginia roads, especially now that many people own smartphones that allow them to make calls, send text messages, use apps, play games or watch videos on the road. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has reported that texting behind the wheel increases a driver’s chances of having a wreck by 23 times.
Virginia, like most other states, prohibits texting while driving. Last year, legislators made texting behind the wheel a primary offense, meaning police can pull over a driver for texting. (Previously, the law was a secondary offense, so texting drivers could be ticketed only if officers saw them commit another violation.) Lawmakers also raised the penalty for a first offense from $20 to $125.
Even with the change, law enforcement officials told WJLA, the ABC affiliate in the Washington area, that it is hard to catch offenders in the act of texting. It is legal in Virginia for drivers – other than novices and school bus drivers – to talk on a cell phone. So, an officer may not be able to tell whether a driver who is holding a phone is illegally texting or legally making a call.
The Problem of Distracted Driving in Virginia
According to Drive Smart Virginia, eight in 10 traffic crashes in Virginia are related to distracted driving. A recent study found that an increasing number of pedestrians and bicyclists are killed nationwide by distracted drivers.
Cell phone use is a serious distraction. Talking on the phone reduces a driver’s attention to the road by 40 percent, reports Drive Smart Virginia, which works to raise awareness about traffic safety.
As the organization points out, there are all sorts of distractions that motorists in Richmond and beyond should take more seriously. Eating, drinking, talking with passengers, helping children in the back seat or grooming can amount to dangerous distractions for drivers.
Texting is among the riskiest activities for drivers because it involves all three major types of distraction: manual, cognitive, and visual.
Recent efforts to reach out to teens are a particularly important part of the campaign to make the state’s roads safe from distracted drivers. Nationwide, 10 percent of drivers under age 20 involved in fatal crashes are reported as distracted at the time, according to federal transportation officials. Drivers in this age group are more likely than older drivers to be distracted.