Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Phone usage becomes primary offense

Police can now stop drivers whom they believe are texting behind the wheel

Danger — Roughly 5,870 people died and about 515,000 were injured from accidents attributed to texting while driving in 2012. Photo credit: Jenny House

According to the Virginia General Assembly, eight lawmakers put a stop to texting while driving Monday, Feb. 4, with the passing of the bill that allows police to stop drivers who appear to be texting.

Delegate Richard L. Anderson presented the “texting while driving” bill at the State Capitol in Richmond. The bill, which passed through the Virginia House of Delegates, made texting while driving a primary offense.

Statistics show that drivers are 23 times more likely to get into an accident while texting, according to textinganddrivingsafety.com.

“Distracted driving accidents have become an epidemic,” Virginia Beach attorney Rick Shapiro said. “We’re even handling a case where an ambulance ran a red light because the operator was on the cellphone.”

According to textinganddrivingsafety.com, a car travels the length of a football field within five seconds at 55 mph. Texting delays a driver’s reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol content level at the legal limit. Eighteen percent of driving-related fatalities occur because of distractions caused by cellphones.

“I think texting while driving has a bigger and more dangerous impact than drunk driving, because most people have cellphones, and it can cause fatal distractions,” Liberty University junior Kevin Serapiglia said.

The legislation that bans texting while driving includes a public education campaign notifying people of the fines that will be implemented, according to the eight lawmakers who sponsored the legislation.

Rockbridge County delegate Ben Cline orchestrated the legislation.

“It’s an issue that affects everybody, because most everybody has one of these (cellphones),” Cline said to the Washington Post.

As stated by the lawmakers who sponsored the legislation, certain fines will be enforced for texting while driving. According to the bill, the first offense will cost drivers $250, and $500 for any future occurrences. Virginia’s current texting law only demands a fine of $25.

Nearly all of the lawmakers said that much of the credit for ushering the bill through the House of Delegates should go to Cline, whose district includes part of Amherst County.

The House version of the bill was adopted in the Senate, where Democratic senators George Barker and Don McEachin spearheaded the legislation, according to distracteddrivinghelp.com.

The News & Advance reported that a driver from Fairfax County received seven text messages in 10 minutes and killed a teenager due to the distraction last fall. That accident started the action toward the bill proposed last week.

Statistics from the National Safety Council show that 1,600,000 accidents and 330,000 injuries occur per year, and there are 11 teen deaths everyday due to texting while driving.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Barker said in an interview after the 9-6 bipartisan vote to approve the bill. “Texting is a tremendous traffic risk.”

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