Early On, Texting Ban Slow to Yield Results

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It appears that with Virginias recent ban on texting and emailing while driving, which went into effect July 1, lawmakers are hoping that fewer LOLs and OMGs will mean fewer accidents on the road.

The new prohibition, which provides exemptions for GPS use, reporting emergencies and emergency vehicle operators, is a secondary offense for drivers, according to the bill, which was passed on March 30.

Because of the new laws secondary nature, drivers cannot be targeted or pulled over solely for visible using their phones keypad making it a difficult law to enforce and, as such, even more difficult to bear immediate results, police say.

Two weeks after the law became active, Alexandria Police do not have any citations recorded in their system and police spokesperson Jody Donaldson said it is still probably too early to determine what sort of an impact the new texting ban will have on traffic citations.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and state police are not tracking instances where the new law is enforced, a state police representative said.

It is likely that the new law will most often be enforced in rear-end car accidents, Donaldson said, where the usual charge for the driver at fault is a failure to pay full time and attention to the roadway.

I dont think in two weeks that were going to have much in the way of results, Donaldson said, but over the course of a year were going to be able to look and see how the new ban affects the number of charges relating to a failure to pay full time and attention.

Some in Alexandria say the texting should have become a primary offense like speeding; that it poses too great of a danger to be so hard to regulate.

[Texting while driving] is idiotic, said Doug Allen, walking on North St. Asaph Street. Why would you allow someone to type when theyre behind the wheel? If theyre texting in a staff meeting theyre only half there its downright dangerous while driving.

A driver filling up at a gas station on North Washington Street said she was for the law, adding, Its difficult to drive and text and pay attention, and Northern Virginia is not an easy place to drive.

Alexandria resident Josh Moore said that the new law has not really changed his habits behind the wheel but called the texting ban a good idea.

I think texting while driving is a lot more dangerous than talking on the phone because you have to take your eyes off of the road, Moore said.

Others point out the lack of coordinated regulation on cell phone use for drivers.

The state ought to have a consistent law with the way it treats cell phones, said Charles Stephenson of Fairfax County. The point is if your hand is occupied and your mind is elsewhere then you shouldnt be driving.

Within the region, Washington prohibits using handheld cell phones while driving and is joined by five other states with similar primary-offense laws, according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration.

I text in my car but its probably safer if I didnt, but sometimes the government has to protect people from themselves, Stephenson added. I trust myself to do it everybody does but I dont know if I trust everyone else to do it safely, so why not?

Under a law enacted in 2007, drivers with provisional licenses beginning drivers and those under 18 are not allowed to use cell phones at all while operating a vehicle. This, too, is a secondary offense.

Violations of the new texting ban carry a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 fines for ensuing offenses.

Driving needs to have everyones utmost attention, Donaldson said. If youre looking at emails or texting even if youre not texting back if youre reading your phone your mind is somewhere else now.

Its one of those things where all of us have done it, but now were going to see this coming into play.

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