What is distracted driving? Throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia distracted driving was a cause of 26,336 vehicle crashes in 2015. Those crashes caused 14,868 injuries and 156 fatalities. In the Roanoke region alone, distracted driving was a cause of 2,599 wrecks. These wrecks caused 1,345 injuries and 19 deaths.
As of February 2016, talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is banned in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Use of a cellphone by a novice driver is restricted in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Novice drivers are banned from texting in two states.
If these laws are considered “secondary” laws, a police officer must have another reason for stopping a vehicle before s/he can cite a driver for using a cellphone. “Primary” laws do not carry this restriction, and a police officer can stop and ticket a driver for using a cellphone. Clearly, it is a good idea to know the law before talking on a cellphone while driving in any state.
Distractions Increase Accident Risk
Use of a cellphone while driving increases the risk of being involved in a vehicle accident. A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2014 found the chance of having a wreck or nearly having a wreck were 17 percent higher when a driver was talking on a cellphone. Listening or talking on a cellphone was not associated with a greater accident risk. However, reaching for a phone, answering a cellphone or dialing a cellphone tripled the risk of having an accident.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety defines distracted driving as “any activity that could divert attention from the primary task of driving. Besides using electronic gadgets, distractions also can include adjusting a radio, eating and drinking, reading, grooming, and interacting with passengers.”
A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that Americans are distracted while driving more than 50 percent of the time. Of the crashes observed by the authors of the study, up to 70 percent involved an “observable” distraction.
In Pennsylvania, a Court of Common Pleas judge wrote in late March of 2016 that the non-driving sender of a text may be held liable in a crash “if the sender had reason to believe that the recipient would read the text while driving.” This was only the second case of the kind. Will this judgment hold under appeal? Only time will tell.
Virginia Texting Law
According to the Code of Virginia § 46.2 – 1078.1:
- It is unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to:
- Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person, or
- Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored within the device nor to any caller identification information.
- These provisions do not apply to
- The operator of any emergency vehicle while engaged in official duties.
- An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped.
- The use of a GPS system or wireless communications used to transmit or received data as part of a digital dispatch system; or
- Anyone using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency.
- A violation of this section is a traffic infraction punishable, for a first offense, by a fine of $125 and, for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of $250.
- Distracted driving shall be included in the driver’s license knowledge examination.
“What is distracted driving?” is a question that might be answered differently in different states or by different agencies. For Virginia drivers, or persons visiting the Commonwealth, all texting is illegal while driving. If you are observed texting while driving, you can be fined.
If you have been injured in a traffic accident caused by a driver who was distracted by texting or anything else at the time of the accident, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your harms and losses. Call Altizer Law, P.C., for a free consultation today.