Virginia’s State Crime Commission is considering a new proposition that would create more severe penalties for texting while driving on the state’s roadways. The new measures are designed to bring the state into alignment with others cross the country, a move many say is taking place far later than it should have.
One tragic case highlighted the need for such laws and happened in May of 2011, when a 19-year-old was pushing his stalled car along Route 7 in Fairfax. The young man was run over by a passing motorist who was distracted by reading a text message on his phone. A judge ended up dismissing the reckless driving charges against the man because texting while driving is only considered a secondary offense in Virginia, subject to a fine as low as $20.
Sadly, these kind of accidents happen all too often, prompting legislators to push for a change in how the state deals with those distracted behind the wheel. The problem is not confined to Virginia either, recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that in 2010, about 9% of the nearly 33,000 highway fatalities were related to distracted driving. Such distraction also leads to more than 400,000 injuries in car crashes each year. According to the NHTSA, those who text are 23 times more likely to crash than those who are paying attention to the road in front of them.
Among the states that neighbor Virginia, Maryland has one of the harshest penalties for texting while driving. In Maryland, texting while driving is considered a primary offense, meaning police can pull you over for doing that alone. If a driver is caught, the crime carries a $500 fine.
Legislators here in VA have tried to make texting a primary offense several times before, to no avail. However, with a possible move by the state’s Crime Commission advocating harsher penalties and increased lobbying by two groups, AAA Mid-Atlantic and a driver’s education organization, Drive Smart, the General Assembly will likely be under pressure this legislative session to implement real changes to the state’s existing laws.
The Virginia Injury Lawyers’ Perspective:
The recent push by some to increase penalties for distracted driving in Virginia represents a great opportunity to remind all drivers about how important it is to remain focused on driving while behind the wheel. With the endless distractions available to us all, it’s easy to forget how dangerous driving can be and how seriously it should be taken. Being alert and remembering the rules of the road will keep everyone safer on Virginia highways.
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