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Texting While Driving Still a Major Concern in Hampton Roads

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In 2009, Virginia (VA) became one of 32 states nationwide to enact laws that prohibit all drivers from sending or reading text messages or emails while driving. Distracted driving, which all too frequently involves cell phone use while driving, is a major contributor to car accidents and fatalities, making Virginia’s passage of the law and its implementation an important step towards making our roads safer by putting the brakes on distracted driving.

But the passage and implementation of the no texting law only takes us so far; we also need strict enforcement of the law. Unfortunately, some recent data from the Virginia (VA) court system raises questions about whether enough efforts are being made to enforce the law. Traffic courts in the regions 5 major cities, plus Hampton and Newport News only resolved a total 77 texting-while-driving cases last year. The Virginia Beach Police Department was the most aggressive in enforcing the law; 51 of the total number of cases came out of Virginia Beach. The majority of individuals cited ended up paying only a small fine of $20, while about a fourth of the citations were ultimately dismissed or found not guilty.

There are some challenges to enforcement. First, the Virginia law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means that an officer can only issue a citation for texting if they are also issuing a citation for another traffic violation such as speeding or running a red light. In addition, making the determination that someone is texting while driving is not always easy for law enforcement, and often requires the officer to be near the driver in question. Behavior associated with impaired driving—such as weaving and erratic lane changes—or a driver looking up and down while driving are telltale signs of texting while driving according to law Sgt. Scott Wichtendahl who is in charge of the Virginia Beach Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit.

Despite the enforcement challenges, the statistics tell us that deterring texting while driving is necessary. Wichtendahl estimates that up to 10% of all crashes in the city involve cell phone use while driving, which results in behavior that his officers have compared to drunk driving. National data and studies back this up: 20% of injury crashes in 2009 involved distracted driving, and a full 18% of those were related to cell phone distractions.

Distracted driving caused by cell phone use continues to be an issue requiring our attention. While law enforcement personnel work to curtail this risky behavior, all of us share in the responsibility to set our phones down when we’re behind the wheel.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.

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  1. cygel White says:
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    Great Article we commend you on your efforts to help with this epidemic “TextKills, an advocacy group committed to road safety, is dedicated to increasing awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. With the proliferation of Smartphones and the constant streaming of information to and from these and other “smart” mobile communication devices, texting while driving (TWD) is now an epidemic that results in thousands of fatalities and 100’s of thousands of injuries annually. TextKills educates the public through social media campaigns and school tours in order to promote policies and programs aimed at enhancing greater personal responsibility and safety awareness among drivers and, ultimately, eliminating TWD from our roadways.”
    In 2010, TextKills launched a tour to rally college and high-school students against the dangers of TWD. Our team presented information to these students and encouraged each attendee to sign a promise to pay attention when driving. We also promoted a mobile application designed to help drivers resist the urge, and temptation, to engage in TWD. The TextKills blog (www.textkills.com) documented each stop along the way as the tour eventually found its way to the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit, hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. TextKills strongly believes that it is critical to direct its mission to the youth of this country, given the findings of a 2009 government study that found that the under-20 age group comprised the largest percentage, by age category, of distracted drivers.
    During 2011, TextKills will continue to strive for a surge in pledges and media coverage so as to further spread its mission of safety, attention to road laws and mobile communications etiquette. The group’s goal is to instill these principles into the next generation of drivers and smart device users, so that like taking the precaution of buckling up a seatbelt, undistracted driving and responsible mobile communications practices will no longer be just a dream, but rather a life-saving reality.
    So I ask you, “Do you agree that texting while driving is a bad practice?”
    SOLUTIONS
    Technology
    DriveReply™ for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android was designed to combat cell phone usage behind the wheel. It features customizable auto-replies and utilizes GPS technology to detect when your vehicle is in motion. It is feature rich and easy to use. Some of the features include personalization, customization of replies, cyber bullying protection with a no-reply list, and enhanced convenience and security with a unique My Drive 5 — ringing a unique tone, if any of your significant persons try to reach you at a time when you should be focused on the road. Learn more at the website (www.drivereply.com).Features:
    • Safely monitor the a Smartphone’s incoming calls and text messages while the vehicle is traveling at a rate of speed at or greater than 10-15MPH
    • Provide customization in auto-reply messages for inbound calls and inbound text messages while the vehicle is in motion
    • Provide personalized responses, so that a recipient would be identified by name in automated replies received
    • Provide a No-Reply List (blacklist)for individuals that will not receive automated replies from the app user
    • Provide a My Drive 5™ List (whitelist) for important individuals that user designates must get through with phone calls or text messages (to the user) in the event of a possible emergency
    • Provide a passenger selection option, should the user be a passenger, rather than a driver, and desire to disable the auto-reply function of the app
    • Provide a Battery Alert System to notify a driver that their battery is running low, so that the driver can safely pull over to plug the phone in to a charging system and maintain theDriveReply™ service
    • DriveReply™ is available in English and Spanish language versions
    27665 Forbes Rd #103 • Laguna Niguel, CA 92677 • (949) 335-5350 Office • (949) 266-5597 Fax • http://www.iconosys.com Copyright 2011, Iconosys, Inc.
    Significance: DriveReply

  2. Kevin Duffan says:
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    Cygel, thanks for providing readers with information about your company and mission. Texting while driving is, without question, an extremely dangerous activity that is 100% preventable. In addition to what you have proposed, a lot of the newer smartphones have a voice-to-text option where you can actually dictate your text in the event you absolutely HAVE to send something out and can’t pull over first. Of course, those instances should be extremely rare, because simply pulling over or waiting til you get to your destination is the much better option. The thing is, texting has become so much a part of our communication, people don’t take the time to do what’s smart.