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Fairfax goes after texting drivers

Distracted driving demonstration video by Anna Uhls/The Post

[This post has been updated]

Fairfax County kicked off a major enforcement effort Monday targeting motorists who text while driving or engage in other forms of distracted driving.

Officers will be stationed throughout to county in areas with high volumes of traffic and crashes, such as the Route 28 corridor and Tysons Corner.

"Officers may be positioned in 'unorthodox' locations where they'll be able to best view careless behaviors that take a driver's focus off of the roadway," said Capt. Susan Culin, commander of the Fairfax police department's traffic division.

Fairfax County police are finding Virginia's year-old law that specifically bans texting while driving to be essentially unenforceable.

So far in 2010, county police have issued only 16 tickets for texting while driving. The law is hard to enforce in part because it's difficult for a police officer to distinguish between sending a text, which is illegal, and dialing a phone number, which is not.

So police are turning to older laws to use in their enforcement campaign, particularly a law requiring drivers to devote their full time and attention to driving. In the past, police had reserved that charge for use in crashes.

"It's really impossible for the officer to see what the driver is doing," Culin said. "And if you're relying on the driver to tell you, you're probably not going to get a truthful answer."

Fairfax is also conducting a distracted driving survey as part of the campaign. The distracted driving survey, which police said is designed to measure attitudes and behaviors, is available here.

-- Staff and wire reports

By Michael Bolden  | September 13, 2010; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Transportation Politics  
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This is a good use of police time.

Studies show texting while driving is worse than DUI in terms of safety.

Posted by: krickey7 | September 10, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Meh. The outright prohibition on texting while driving is silly given the taffic in this town. Sure, if you are moving and texting, you are idiot. But if you're stuck in one of NoVA's endless traffic jams and not moving, then I see no harm.

Posted by: oldtimehockey | September 10, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The rear end collision is the most frequent vehicle accident and it's just getting worse so I went out and got one of these from I'm going on the offensive.

Posted by: KrystalKid | September 10, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Actually...stuck in traffic doesn't make it safe. I witnessed someone just two days ago rear end another driver while "stopped" at a light...He was on his phone. And didn't bother to get off the phone to even offer a simple apology to the other driver.

Posted by: Really8 | September 10, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Whatever, if you can't control a car while stopped, then maybe you shouldn't be driving. People who eat while driving, deal with kids while driving, etc., are all really dangerous. I check my BB all the time while stopped at lights and have never hit anyone and never will.

Posted by: oldtimehockey | September 10, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Whatever, if you can't control a car while stopped, then maybe you shouldn't be driving. People who eat while driving, deal with kids while driving, etc., are all really dangerous. I check my BB all the time while stopped at lights and have never hit anyone and never will.

Posted by: oldtimehockey | September 10, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Well, I doubt you would get a ticket while you were stopped. But I suspect you check when it's bumper to bumper traffic, meaning the cars start and stop frequently. In that situation, texting is potentially dangerous.

Posted by: krickey7 | September 10, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Most people around here shouldn't driving.

Imagine a world without cars.

Posted by: jiji1 | September 10, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Should only Fairfax residents fill out that survey?

Posted by: DOEJN | September 10, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I think legislation has value in raising public awareness in forums like this one but it will be difficult to solely legislate our way out of this issue. I just read that 72% of teens text daily - many text more 3000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook - even with their professors. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and its not going away.

I decided to do something about it after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver . Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple app for smartphones - low cost, no recurring fees. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

Erik Wood, owner

Posted by: ErikWood | September 10, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

This reminded me of a commute a few years ago, wife and I stuck in bumper-to-bumper stop-n-go traffic on 395 - I look over to my right and there I see, to my amazement, that the young woman driving the car next to ours has one bare foot on the very top of her steering wheel, with one hand holding a bottle of toe-nail polish and the other hand holding the brush, she carefully painted the toe-mails of the bare foot! Now that was distracting!

Posted by: chlpatent | September 11, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Reading e-mail or text messages at red lights isn't a problem just because of the prospect that you might roll into someone. Idiots who sit there reading are also prime causes of congestion because they're often not ready to move when the light changes.

Posted by: 1995hoo | September 13, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

For those who don't consider texting or other forms of distracted driving while sitting stopped in traffic or at a light to be a problem, consider this: It absolutely reduces your situational awareness. It increases the chance that when traffic starts moving or the light changes, that several seconds or longer may go by before you realize it and start moving. These few moments add up and contribute to the overall traffic problem that plagues the area.

Now, combine your delay with the delays caused by others doing the same thing. If emergency vehicles are trying to get through, they are delayed in responding to emergency calls, or transporting patients to the hospital.

If you don't think this is a big deal, try riding with me sometime and see how these little delays can make a difference in the condition of the patients that I as a Firefighter/Paramedic am responsible for treating. Or how quickly a small fire can consume a house or kill people or their pets. And I'm sure law enforcement can tell countless stories of how if they had arrived seconds earlier to calls for help, they may have been able to catch robbery or rape suspects or stop crimes in progress, catching the criminals that commit them. You would be shocked by the number of motorists who fail to yield when I am behind them with lights, sirens, and air horns going because their situational awareness is impacted by talking or texting on their cell phones.

Posted by: Safety_First | September 13, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

If people are failing to yield, you need a ram, not more laws.

Posted by: jiji1 | September 13, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

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