Texting While Driving / Distracted Driving in Virginia
Virginia has had an incredible 42,000 car crashes for the first half of 2013, of which 352 were fatalities. It is estimated that 8 out of 10 of those traffic crashes are related to distracted driving, which includes Texting While Driving. The accident rate of people who Text while Driving is estimated at 23 times greater than the accident of those who do not.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving includes any activity that distracts the driver from the road while operating an automobile. There are manual distractions that take a driver’s hands off the wheel, visual distractions that take a driver’s eyes off the road, and cognitive distractions that takes one’s focus off the act of driving in a safe and attentive manner (such as daydreaming or the “wandering” of one’s mind). While the most media attention is paid to Texting While Driving, activities that can be considered a distraction can be eating and drinking, personal grooming, reading maps, adjusting the radio, and similar activities that many people don’t consider a big deal.
In order to combat traffic fatalities due to distracted driving, the County of Fairfax, and indeed, the state of Virginia at large, have enacted several new traffic laws. Texting While Driving is now a primary traffic offense in Virginia and thus police do not need any other reason (such as speeding or a traffic violation) to pull over those who are spotted texting. Under the new legislation, fines for texting are also significantly higher than in the past.
The high incidence of distracted driving caused by cell phone use or texting has also caused many police & state law enforcement agencies to replace their old squad cars with sport-utility vehicles and trucks that allow officers to look down into smaller vehicles to see if a person is using their cell phone to send text-messages.
For the first offense, the fine is $125 (up from $20) and subsequent fines are $250. It doesn’t matter whether you are reading or sending a text message, the fine is the same.
Distracted Driving – A Double Edged Sword
No one wants to be in an accident caused by a distracted driver. With many of the new distracted driving laws, police are given unprecedented leeway in pulling drivers over. This is good news in cracking down on drivers who habitually drive distracted, making the roadways unsafe for law abiding citizens. This may also lead to a reduction of cases that are thrown out of court simply because a defense lawyer argues that there was no probable cause for police to pull over his or her client. Now, instead of having to prove traffic stop had legal merit, prosecutors may rely on distracted driving laws rather than specific and articulable facts to keep offenders in the docket.
The other side of this is that people who are innocent of any offense being charged with distracted driving based on a momentary lapse or other non-intentional action that may cause their driving to be erratic. The number of first-time or accidental offenders may rise, leading to a glut of court cases involving distracted driving which can waste the time and resources of individuals, police manpower, and the court system. In such unfortunate instances, the services of a qualified traffic defense attorney may be the only recourse for unjustly accused individuals.