Talking on your cell phone — or another distraction while you’re driving — is very dangerous. Virginia car accident attorney Jeff Brooke explains what distracted driving is, how it affects your ability to drive, and why it is so dangerous.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is anything that causes you to take hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or even your mind off your responsibility to drive safely. Examples of distracted driving include:
- Talking on a cell phone or other handheld device
- Texting or navigating on a handheld device
- Eating or drinking
- Applying makeup and grooming
- Navigating by reading a map or looking at a navigation system
- Tending to children or pets
- Talking to passengers
- Adjusting a radio or other audio device
- Watching a video
- Reaching for a dropped phone or other item
- Looking at an external object or person
- Changing clothes
- Any non-driving activity
What Happens When You Drive While Distracted?
A Virginia Tech study concluded that 80% of all accidents and 65% of all near-accidents in Virginia involved driver inattention within three seconds of the crash. Another study found that when people talk on a phone and drive at the same time, they are as impaired as driving intoxicated with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level. The Institute for Highway Safety found that a driver using a cell phone is four times more likely to be in an accident involving injury, and that hands-free phones are no safer.
Nearly everyone multi-tasks these days — or at least they think they do. Undoubtedly, you have seen drivers talking on a cell phone while sitting at a traffic light, failing to see the light turn from red to green. Even worse, you often see a phone-using driver traveling at a dangerously slow speed on a multi-lane highway, oblivious to honking horns, flashing lights, and cars flying by on both sides. Those common sights don’t even take into account the staggering number of accidents, injuries, and deaths caused by drivers who are talking on the phone or distracted from driving by something else.
Research has proven that it is impossible for the brain to perform more than one task at a time. People think they are multi-tasking, because the brain switches from one task to the next quickly. But the fact is that reaction times are slower when the brain is attempting to do more than one thing at a time. The brain cannot focus on both tasks 100%.
A university study revealed that distracted driving affects traffic flow and creates dangerous clusters of vehicles that result in serious accidents. The following behaviors were directly linked to distracted driving:
- Distracted drivers are 20% less likely to change lanes.
- Phone-using drivers tend to look straight ahead, pay less attention to what’s going on around them, and change lanes dangerously or swerve into other lanes.
- Phone-using drivers are up to 50 seconds slower in changing lanes behind a slower moving vehicle.
- Distracted drivers have 24% more variation in following distance and drive slower than attentive drivers.
In addition, studies have demonstrated a cognitive phenomenon that is now being linked to distracted driving. It’s called inattentional blindness or perceptional blindness. In simple terms, even when people think they are multi-tasking, they actually can focus on only one object in their perceptual field. When something else appears unexpectedly, whether it is an object, person, or event, the distracted person is literally unable to see it.
Inattentional blindness can occur when you are driving: When your brain is focused on talking on the phone or doing something else, you actually may not even see an object that suddenly appears in front of you. Many accidents — and many deaths — occur for that very reason. Phone-using drivers often hit pedestrians or bicyclists, a car in front that suddenly stops or slows down quickly, or a truck that suddenly changes lanes. After the accident, the frequent explanation the driver offers is that he or she never saw the person or vehicle. Perceptual blindness may be the explanation. However, in Virginia, where a driver is responsible for injuries and damage when that driver causes an car accident, perceptual blindness does not relieve the driver of legal liability if cell phone use or other distracted driving causes an accident.
If you are seriously injured in an accident that was caused by a distracted driver, you should contact a Virginia car accident attorney as soon as possible. When a distracted driver causes an accident, that person is responsible for the injuries and damages that result.
Virginia Has Laws on Distracted Driving
As in Virginia, 80% of accidents nationwide are related to distracted driving. Texting or otherwise using a hand-held device while driving is by far the most dangerous form of distracted driving. If a driver texts or emails and drives, or otherwise becomes distracted by a hand-held device, the driver is 23 times more likely to be in an accident.
Texting while driving is illegal in Virginia. State law specifically provides that texting and emailing — whether sending, receiving, or reading — are banned for all drivers statewide. It is a primary offense. That means you can be pulled over and given a ticket for texting or emailing. While in some states, it is a secondary offense — and it was in Virginia until 2013 — that is no longer the case here. Fines were substantially increased when it became a primary offense.
In addition, Virginia novice drivers, those under age 18, are banned from all cell phone use, both hand-held and hands-free. This offense is still secondary, so police officers need to witness another violation before they can issue a distracted driving citation to a novice driver based on cell phone use.
Cell phone use for school bus drivers in Virginia is also banned. Unlike the ban for novice drivers, enforcement for school bus drivers is primary and does not require a law enforcement officer to witness another offense.
When Do You Need to Talk With a Virginia Car Accident Attorney?
If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident in Virginia that was caused by someone else, or if a loved one has been injured or died in a Virginia accident that was another person’s fault, you should talk with a Virginia car accident attorney — even before you talk with any insurance adjusters. The Jeff Brooke Team is here to help you and your family. Contact us by phone at (866) 915-2996 or by using our online contact form.
Texting While Driving in Virginia: a Primary Offense
Virginia’s laws regarding texting and driving are changing. As of July 1, texting became a primary offense, meaning that the police can pull you over even if this is the only probable cause they have that you have committed a driving offense.
The rash of recent texting while driving accidents and a prominent new documentary film have put this type of distracted driving squarely in the news lately. Indeed, texting has become a scourge.
We see it everywhere and the effect is bound to be devastating as texting becomes more prevalent. Just the other day, my wife and I were parallel to a driver for four or five miles who was driving with her cell phone propped on top of the steering wheel.
She was furiously working the buttons of her phone with her thumbs while trying to maintain control of the steering wheel with her other fingers. Her head bobbed up and down as her eyes alternated between the screen and her view of the road ahead. Talk about an accident waiting to happen!
Texting is not the only distraction to safe driving. Any distraction can be deadly, and a driver who believes that just because he refrains from texting that he is a safe driver is sorely mistaken. Think about the list of permitted activities and how dangerous they can be. How many of us have seen drivers eating, applying make-up, combing hair, adjusting the radio, admiring an attractive person, sightseeing, yelling at the kids, petting a pet, etc. At 60 miles an hour, your vehicle travels 8 feet per second. A whole lot can happen in that time, and it does not matter whether the distraction came from a permitted activity or an illegal one.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the police should locate and prosecute texting drivers. But, until drivers actually “get it,” it is unclear how much effect there will be with stricter enforcement. The bottom line is that people need to think about both the criminal and civil consequences of distracted driving. They also need to think about the moral consequences, but that is for a different blog. At the end of the day, a $75 ticket for texting while driving may be the least of a distracted driver’s concern. Imagine the shame, guilt, and financial devastation that would come from causing a multiple fatality. We have seen it in our own office. If drivers could actually experience the guilt and shame that comes with such a catastrophe, maybe then they would begin to appreciate the awesome responsibility that comes with the operation of a motor vehicle. Until then, all we can do is continue to publicize this problem and help those families that have become the unfortunate victims of this misconduct.
Virginia Texting While Driving Law: What You Need To Know
Texting is the most dangerous form of distracted driving. Nearly one of every four accidents results from a driver who was texting. Nationwide, that’s 1.6 million accidents and more than 330,000 injuries each year. Our Virginia texting while driving law makes it illegal for anyone to text and drive in the state.
What the Virginia Texting While Driving Law Says
The law applies to more than texts and to more than cell phones. In Virginia, it is illegal to operate any motor vehicle while using any handheld personal communications device to manually enter letters or text as a means of communicating or read an email or text message sent to or stored in the device. The prohibition does not apply to reading or entering a name or number or caller identification information.
The Virginia texting while driving law was originally passed in 2009. Significant changes were made in 2013. Texting or emailing while driving is now a primary offense, which means you can be pulled over if a law enforcement officer observes you texting while you are driving. Before 2013, texting was a secondary offense, so you could only be cited for a violation if you were pulled over for a different traffic violation.
At the same time the nature of the offense changed, the fine increased substantially. A first offense is a $125 fine. Second and subsequent offenses carry a $250 fine. A person who is convicted of both reckless driving and texting is required to pay a mandatory minimum $250, even if it is the first texting conviction.
Texting while driving violations in Virginia are pre-payable offenses. That means you can pay the fine and avoid going to court. However, pre-payment is equivalent to pleading guilty. A subsequent offense will be charged as a second offense and the higher fine will apply. Pre-paying the fine also results in DMV demerit points on your driver’s license.
While texting and emailing while driving are illegal in Virginia, the state does not prohibit cell phone use entirely, with a couple important exceptions:
- Drivers under 18 years of age are not permitted to use a cell phone for any reason;
- School bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones for any reason.
Other drivers are permitted to use cell phones and other handheld devices for purposes other than texting and emailing. It’s important to know that nearby jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia and Maryland, do prohibit cell phone use entirely while driving. North Carolina’s laws are very similar to those of Virginia in prohibiting texting for all drivers but permitting other cell phone use by drivers over age 18.
Exceptions to the Texting Prohibition
There are some narrow exceptions to the prohibition. They include:
- An emergency vehicle operator engaged in performance of official duties;
- An operator in a vehicle that is lawfully parked or stopped;
- A driver using GPS or wireless devices to transmit or receive data;
- A person using a handheld device to report an emergency.
The law defines “emergency vehicle operator” very specifically. The exception does not apply to just anyone who is responding to an emergency.
If You’ve Been Injured By Someone Who Violated the Virginia Texting While Driving Law
Many accidents in Virginia are caused by people who violate Virginia’s texting while driving law. If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident in Virginia that was caused by someone else, or if a loved one has been injured or died in a Virginia accident that was another person’s fault, you should talk with an experienced Virginia car accident attorney. The Jeff Brooke Team is here to help you and your family. Contact us by phone at (757) 347-8524 or by using our online contact form.