New Texting Laws in Virginia: July 1, 2013

Save It 4 L8r: Virginia Cracking Down on Texting Behind the Wheel

As a parent of three young drivers with another not far behind I was thrilled to hear about the recent amendment to Virginia’s anti-texting and driving laws. Proposed by the governor and passed with strong Democratic support, this new law upgrades texting while driving to a primary offense and increases the fines for violators. This allows police to effect a stop on any driver they observe texting, whereas previously a texting ticket required the officer to observe another offense in order to pull the driver over. Furthermore, the fine for texting while driving skyrocketed from $20 to $125, with repeat offenders paying double that. These new rules went into effect on July 1st, just in time for the July 4th holiday weekend that AAA estimates will see more than 970,000 drivers on Virginia’s roads.[1]

These new laws were made in response to a growing perception that distracted driving is the single greatest hazard facing motorists. Every day in the United States crashes caused by distracted drivers kill nine people and injure more than 1,000. Among all those distractions, texting is the single most common cause of accidents. The process of sending or receiving a text is almost unique in that it occupies the driver’s eyes, hands, and mind simultaneously, causing them to completely ignore the road. The average amount of time required to read a text message is 4.6 seconds, enough time for a driver doing 55 mph to travel the length of a football field. With statistics like this it is no wonder that researchers are starting to describe distracted driving as on par with drunk driving. One University of Utah based study reported that a distracted driver performs at the same level as a driver with a BAC of .08%, the legal limit.[2] Other studies have estimated that texting makes a driver 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.

Some organizations have begun to recognize and fight back against the dangers of distracted driving. Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently partnered with Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift to create a music video depicting the dangers of texting while driving. The staff of the Medical Center see thousands of preventable injuries caused by distracted driving every year, and wanted to do whatever they could to help people realize the dangers of taking their eyes off the road. Trauma Outreach Coordinator Cathy Wilson notes that distracted drivers are risking far more than their own lives. “As a driver, you not only assume responsibility for your own safety but the safety of your passengers, bystanders, and those in other vehicles.”[3]

As parents, the burden is on us to ensure our children’s safety and set a strong example against distracted driving. Yet a recent study from the University of Michigan shows that 15% of parents admit to having texted while driving.[4] It is time to recognize the incredible dangers of this behavior, and ask ourselves whether any text could ever be worth the life of another human being. As you take to the roads this holiday weekend, be aware of the high volume of traffic and possible distracted drivers all around you, and be sure to keep your eyes and attention firmly where they belong.

About the Author: Courtney Van Winkle is a partner and trial attorney with the personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen. She is experienced in handling complex personal injury, brain injury and wrongful death claims. As the mother of four children herself, Courtney is able to draw upon her own experiences to compassionately work with children in her law practice