Virginia’s texting law may be too limited to notably improve roadway safety; past surveys indicate texting while driving remains a significant problem.

Texting while driving remains a surprisingly common behavior across the country. A 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that 31 percent of respondents between ages 18 and 64 had texted or sent emails while driving during the 30 days before the survey. Many Fairfax residents may think they have a low risk of accidents involving these drivers because of Virginia's law against texting while driving. However, data indicates texting and driving remains a serious safety threat.

A limited law

In 2013, Virginia enacted a stronger law against texting while driving. According to the Washington Post, the new law increased the fine for a first offense from just $20 to $125 and upgraded texting while driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense. Officers can pull over motorists for a primary offense; to cite a driver for a secondary offense, an officer must first pull over the driver for a primary offense.

These changes served to make the state's texting ban easier to enforce while giving drivers greater incentive to change their behaviors. However, critics contend the new law contains a significant loophole: drivers are only banned from texting. Motorists can still use their phones to send emails, look up directions and engage in other distracting behaviors. Texting drivers can also avoid proper punishment by lying about how they were using their phones.

Unfortunately, data from 2013 suggests that the limitations of state laws may leave many drivers feeling comfortable making unsafe decisions while behind the wheel.

Prevalence of distracted driving

A 2013 AAA survey found that rates of texting and driving are markedly high in Virginia, according to NBC News. The survey focused on drivers commuting through work zones on I-95 and produced the following figures:

  • Nearly 20 percent of drivers who commute on the highway text while driving.
  • Of all the drivers surveyed, 75 percent had recently been reminded of the dangers of texting while driving through research or reports.
  • Despite this, only two-thirds modified their behavior while traveling through the work zone on I-95.
  • One-fifth of the drivers surveyed reported almost experiencing a distraction-related accident.
  • Of the drivers who admitted to texting, 42 percent almost experienced or did experience an accident.

The same survey found that 80 percent of all accidents in Virginia involve some form of distracted driving. Although texting is not the only activity in which a distracted driver may engage, the survey findings suggest that texting may be an important contributor to the state's distraction-related accidents.

If Virginia doesn't expand its distracted driving laws, these unnecessary accidents may continue affecting many motorists. Anyone who has been hurt because of a distracted driver's actions should meet with an attorney to discuss available legal options, such as seeking compensation.