Commuters in northern Virginia are notorious for talking on the phone, reading email and sending text messages behind the wheel. They may not be paying attention to the road — but the police are paying attention to them.
The Fairfax County Police Department recently held a training session for officers on issues related to distracted driving and enforcement, InsideNoVa.com reported. The session occurred in conjunction with Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, when safety advocates call attention to the problem of driver distractions.
Virginia prohibits texting behind the wheel, but it is legal to talk on the phone while driving unless you are a novice driver or school bus driver. However, talking on the phone can cause a driver to swerve out of a lane or run a red light, which can lead to a citation.
In Fairfax County in 2013, distracted driving accounted for 1,175 traffic accidents.
But the problem extends beyond just Fairfax County. According to DRIVE SMART Virginia, a nonprofit supported by insurance companies, 80% of wrecks in the state are caused by distracted drivers. Nationwide, 3,328 people died in traffic accidents that involved distracted drivers in 2012.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is calling attention to mental distractions that dangerously affect drivers even when their hands are on the wheel. It rates mental distractions at three levels:
- Mild danger, characterized by activities that do not engage a driver’s entire attention, such as listening to the radio or an audio book.
- Moderate danger, which draws a driver’s attention to an activity such as talking on a hand-held cellphone or hands-free device. Though the driver’s hands may be on the wheel, his or her mind is occupied with a conversation.
- High danger, including the use of hands-free mobile communications such as voice-activated text and email that can be a greater car crash hazard than talking on a hand-held phone.
When a distracted driver causes an auto accident, the driver may be held accountable for the harm they cause. People who have been injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver should talk to a licensed personal injury attorney about their legal options to seek compensation.