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Drivers Beware: Virginia Toughening Stand on Drunken, Distracted Driving

By Laura Cirillo June 27, 2013 12:32 pm

7 Comments

Drivers on Interstate 95 south pass under Telegraph Road in North Stafford. (Mary Davidson/PotomacLocal.com)

Drivers on Interstate 95 south pass under Telegraph Road in North Stafford. (Mary Davidson/PotomacLocal.com)

The penalties for drinking and driving or texting and driving will change Monday, July 1.

Currently, texting while driving is considered a secondary offense, meaning the offender must be stopped for another, separate offense in order to be charged for texting and driving. Under the new law, it will become a primary offense, allowing police to stop drivers suspected of texting or reading text messages while driving.

A first time offender will pay a $125 fine and $250 for subsequent offenses, an increase from the current penalties of $20 for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. A texting while driving conviction can also result in three points on a person’s driving record. Additionally, the new law imposes a mandatory $250 for any person convicted of reckless driving if found to be texting at the time of the offense.

More than 20 percent of all crashes in Virginia were attributed to driver distractions in 2012. More than 28,000 crashes resulted in 174 fatalities and 16,709 injuries, and many involved drivers using cell phones. Most of those distracted driver crashes involved drivers between the ages of 21 and 35 years old, and occurred at the end of the week, between Thursday and Saturday afternoons, according to a press release by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

DWI penalties also changing

Penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI) will also change next week. Under current law, a DWI conviction is not considered a felony unless it is the third DWI conviction within 10 years. As of July 1, any DWI conviction will also automatically become a felony, with a minimum fine of $1,000 and one year in prison, if the offender has a prior conviction of involuntary manslaughter or DWI maiming while operating a motor vehicle or watercraft.

“These new laws address and raise awareness about some of the biggest dangers drivers face every day,” said DMV Spokesperson, Sunni Brown. “Drinking and driving and distracted driving lead to crashes and these laws aim to keep drivers safe as well everyone else sharing the road. That’s especially important with the upcoming Fourth of July holiday as there will be increased traffic on Virginia’s roadways.”

Every year prior to July 1, all sworn Virginia State Police employees are briefed on all new laws related to public safety, including the new texting while driving legislation. Both Prince William County Police as well as deputies at Stafford County Sheriff’s Office have also received training on the new laws.

Police must see you texting

According to Virginia State Police officials, the texting while driving legislation will be enforced just as any other primary offense. The trooper must observe the illegal conduct of the vehicle’s operator, thus providing the trooper with the reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop on that vehicle. Further investigation determines what, if any, offense(s) the driver will be cited for by the trooper.

“Drivers should be prepared for checkpoints during the upcoming holiday,” said First Sgt. Kim Chinn, of the Prince William County Police Department. “We also hold checkpoints throughout the year, not just on holidays.”

Fortunately, cell phone carriers and others in the telecommunications industry are working together to help stop motorists from texting when driving. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have all banded together to create the “It Can Wait” campaign, to educate people – especially teens – about the dangers of texting and driving. In addition, several providers offer free mobile apps, available for Smartphones, which allow users to lock their screens while driving, activate auto-reply messages for texts and calls or utilize hands-free options.

 

  • KMC

    Please proof read your articles before publishing. There are numerous grammar and typographical errors in this article that distract the reader and make the reader lose sight of the message. Please learn the difference between “their” and “there.” Also make sure you are not in so much of a hurry that you leave words out of the sentence. Several sentences make no sense unless you insert the words left out. If the writer doesn’t have the skills to write correctly then they need another individual to proof read or they need to find another occupation.

    • BD

      KMC,

      Your need to be a jerk is much more bothersome than Laura’s typos.

    • JJ

      Gee, shouldn’t that be GRAMMATICAL and typographical?

    • KO

      *proofread is one word
      as stated before, *grammatical
      *which not that
      again *proofread

      What’s that thing they say about glass houses?

      Also, I hope the irony is not lost upon anyone that “proofread” was written incorrectly

    • Krystal

      KMC- If you get distracted that easy by a few typos then I feel sorry for you.

  • Wabbadoodlebonedry

    I read it and understood it. No problem here… Wasnt distracted by typos either.

    Must be a learning disability…

  • http://www.RichAnderson.com Del. Rich Anderson

    Laura: Many thanks for this article. I was the author/patron for HB 1907, which was signed into law by Gov. McDonnell after passing both houses with large margins. I carried it because three Prince William sisters came to me in June 2012 and told me the story of their brother’s death in April 2012 at the hands of a texting driver. That put a face on the need to put teeth into our Driving While Texting laws. Thanks for helping to spread the word!

    RICH ANDERSON
    Delegate, 51st House District
    Virginia General Assembly