Strategies for reducing car accidents and the injuries and fatalities that result from them take many forms. From improvements to highway designs and vehicle restraint systems to enhanced enforcement of traffic violations and safety regulations, governments can play a significant role in motor vehicle safety.
Texting While Driving in Virginia
Two important examples are laws passed by states to prohibited intoxicated or distracted driving. While all states have enacted strict drunk driving laws over the past generation, many commentators have called out states like Virginia for failing to provide significant consequences for behaviors such as texting while driving.
The Washington Post recently drew attention to Virginia's texting law when it reported on a criminal reckless driving case that had resulted in the death of a Fairfax County college student. The judge in the case had dismissed the charge, despite the fact that the driver had opened a text message at the time of the accident, because texting while driving is only considered to be a minor traffic infraction in Virginia. The maximum fine for this obviously dangerous behavior is only $20.
Texting Significantly Increases Likelihood of Collision
How dangerous is the act of sending or receiving text messages while operating a car or truck? One study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released in 2009 found that text messaging increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by a factor of more than 23 for drivers of large vehicles and trucks. For comparison, the same study found that dialing a cell phone increased the risk of a crash event by 5.9 times over driving without distractions.
Texting is a Secondary Offense
In the Fairfax County case, the judge stated his opinion that the driver was acting recklessly, but noted that he was bound by the Virginia legislature's definition. While Virginia's cell phone ban, which applies to novice drivers and bus drivers, is a primary offense, the ban on texting for all drivers is a secondary law (except for bus drivers). This means that a driver cannot even be pulled over for texting unless law enforcement perceives or suspects another traffic violation.
Criminal Violations and Civil Liability
While texting may not amount to reckless driving under Virginia's criminal code, a host of factors can contribute to a determination of negligence in a car accident lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can assemble cell phone records, witness testimony and other evidence as proof of liability to help an injured client recover damages for a severe injury or wrongful death.
Contact Kearney, Freeman, Fogary & Joshi, PLLC today if you've been injured by a distracted driver. Call 703-691-8333 today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.