Virginia State Police Raising Awareness of the Dangers of Distracted Driving

Technology has had a huge impact, both good and bad, on the way we travel. There’s no doubt that advances in vehicle design, and navigational devices and apps have made getting to your destination safer and easier. However, those same devices, such as phones, tablets, music players, as well as other activities which pull attention away from the road can create hazardous circumstances.

John Carpenter, one of three patrolling officers with the Virginia State Police in Highland County, spoke about the efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

“We got the travel season getting ready to start, and just to remind folks, be aware of what you’re doing. The big push right now, across the nation, is distracted driving – people texting and emailing while driving. It’s not only the emailing and the texting, it’s driving distraction as a whole – either eating, we see people grooming themselves in the mirror.

“When a person takes their eyes off the road, to start punching in numbers or start answering that text, which they shouldn’t be doing, the average time is five seconds. And going 55 miles an hour, that’s the average length of a football field. When they’re doing that for five seconds, you can imagine being blindfolded and driving 100 yards. A lot could happen in that short time frame.”

“You can tell when people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing – they’re not watching the road, you can see them physically look down, and they’re looking up, looking down, looking up, and that’s a key indicator, or they’re swerving all,over the place.”

Officer Carpenter offered some eye opening statistics from the government website

“Ten percent of the drivers that are under the age of 20, that were involved in fatal crashes, were actually reported as being distracted at the time, which meant that they were using their cellphone, or doing something else. One of the stats which I found pretty interesting – a quarter of the teen-age drivers responded to a survey, who actually admitted that they texted more than once, often, while they drive. 20% of the teens, and 10 % of the parents admit to having extended conversations via text while they’re driving. It’s a hot issue right now. I’ve worked some pretty bad crashes in my time as a trooper – it can happen just like that.”

Not only can driving distracted be hazardous to your health, getting caught doing it can hurt your wallet as well.

“It is a primary moving violation now. It was not in the past – back in 2009, I believe, they came up with the texting while driving law. It was a secondary violation, which meant a trooper, officer or a deputy, had to have a primary reason for the stop, to write that ticket. Now, as of 2013, with the attention that it’s getting, it’s now a primary violation, so I don’t need anything else – I can pull you over, and I can write you a ticket. The first offense for that violation is $125 fine, plus court costs. Second, or subsequent offenses, it moves up to a $250 fine.”

Officer Carpenter spoke about the legality of using hands free units.

“As of right now, it’s mainly centered on texting and emailing while you’re driving – as of right now, it doesn’t talk about talking on the phone, or using Bluetooth. I highly recommend that, even though said even operating a hands free device doesn’t stop you from being distracted.

His advice to those who may be tempted to text or call while driving.

“It’s not really worth it. It’s a text. If its that important, pull over, call the person, get it out of the way, and get back to driving. If you keep getting text messages from that person, pull over when you can, come to a safe stop, pull in a parking lot, or whatever, call that person and say “Hey, I’m driving – I’ll get with you later”. It’s not that important.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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