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Intel Free Press , https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Texting_while_Driving_(March_28,_2013).jpgThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tells drivers all they should ever need to know when it states, “Distracted driving kills.”

Few activities take a driver’s eyes and mind off the road more completely or for a greater length of time than sending and receiving text messages from handheld smartphones. A car or truck driven at 60 mph travels nearly the length of 2.5 football fields in 30 seconds. During that time, it is easy to miss a light changing from green to red, another driver changing lanes or slowing to turn, or a pedestrian entering the roadway.

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The worst happens with depressing frequency. During 2017, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles recorded 173 crashes that were blamed explicitly on texting behind the wheel. Those wrecks resulted in one death and a total of 80 injuries to drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

Using a broader definition of distracted driving that includes instances of “eyes not on road” and cell phone use, Virginia safety officials identified 208 deaths and 14,656 juries due to negligent and careless actions like texting, consulting a maps app or checking email. It is little wonder, then, that state law prohibits most uses of handheld communication devices while driving.

Section 46.2-1078.1 of the Virginia Code makes it unlawful for the driver of a vehicle that is in motion to

  1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
  2. 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.

A separate law further specifies that “no person driving a commercial motor vehicle shall text or use a handheld mobile telephone while driving such vehicle.” A few exceptions exist for police and other first responders, as well as for reporting emergencies, but a proposal to outlaw even holding a cell phone or smartphone while driving in Virginia came very close to passing the General Assembly in 2019.

My Virginia personal injury law firm colleagues and I hoped the hands-free communication bill would become law. We have helped too many victims of texting and otherwise distracted drivers. All measures that compel drivers to put down their phones and focus on keeping themselves and other safe are worth taking.

EJL

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