April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

Distracted driving is becoming a dangerous and deadly epidemic on our roads and highways. Every day, distracted drivers cause collisions that seriously injure and kill innocent people. The United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released an updated summary of statistics on distracted driving and they are staggering:

  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2013 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
  • In 2013, there were 3,154 people killed and an estimated additional 424,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
  • Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crashes.
  • n 2013, there were 480 nonoccupants killed in distraction-affected crashes. [1]

The Department of Transportation (DOT) works to reduce the occurrence of distracted driving and raise awareness of the dangers. On April 1st, the DOT kicked off Distracted Driving Awareness Month by announcing the “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign. During this month, state and local law enforcement will aggressively ticket drivers who are texting or using their mobile devices when behind the wheel. In announcing the campaign, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox commented, “Across the country, we’re putting distracted drivers on notice: U drive …U text…U pay. Texting and driving will at least cost you the price of a ticket but it could very well cost you your life or someone else’s.”

Texting or using a cell phone are the main activities that people associate with distracted driving. However, distracted driving is any activity that could divert a driver’s attention away from the road. These distractions include:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

In Virginia, there are several laws aimed at reducing distracted driving including the following:

  • Ban on texting for drivers of all ages. A violation carries a fine of $125.00 for a first offense and a fine of $250.00 for subsequent offenses. This law does not apply to certain emergency vehicles, an operator who is lawfully parked/stopped, any person using a handheld device to report an emergency, or the use of factory-installed or GPS or wireless communications devices used to transmit/receive data as part of a digital dispatch system. [2]
  • Ban on all cell phones use (handheld & hands-free) by drivers with a provisional driver’s license. A provisional license is the initial license issued to any person younger than 18 and expires on the holder’s eighteenth birthday. This is a secondary law which means an officer can only issue a ticket if the driver has been stopped for another violation. [3]
  • Ban on all cell phone use (handheld & hands-free) for school bus drivers. The use of two-way radio devices authorized by the owner of the school bus is not prohibited. [4]
  • Ban on commercial drivers texting or using a handheld mobile telephone. A driver who violates this section is subject to a fine not to exceed $2,750.00. [5]

We all need to remain vigilant about the dangers of distracted driving even after this awareness month concludes. The NHTSA urges drivers to do the following to combat distracted driving:

  • Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.
  • Be good role models for young drivers and set a good example. Talk with your teens about responsible driving.
  • Speak up when you are a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against other unsafe drivers.

This is great advice for a society that often feels the need to be “connected” 24/7. However, at the end of the day, probably the best way to curb distracted driving is to educate your family…your neighbors…your co-workers…and all Americans about the deadly danger it poses.

About the Author: David M. Williams Jr. has many years of experience in a variety of personal injury related matters. He is currently managing the Garrisonville / Stafford County Office of Allen & Allen.

[1] U. S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Distracted Driving 2013-Summary of Statistical Findings” (Report No. DOT HS 812 132), April 2015.

[2] Va. Code Ann. §46.2-1078.1

[3] Va. Code Ann. §46.2-334.01

[4] Va. Code Ann. §46.2-919.1

[5] Va. Code Ann. §46.2-341.20:5