Distracted Driving Deaths Increase in the Commonwealth
According to a five-year Department of Motor Vehicles study of fatal accidents, distracted driving deaths in Virginia increased 22 percent, even though the total number of road fatalities dropped nearly the same amount.
Sheila Jones is an instructor at Green Light Driving School and says the focus of her class is staying focused behind the wheel.
"Anything that takes your eyes off the road for a second - that's distracted driving," she said.
Texting, lunch on the road, a radio blasting and rowdy kids in the backseat are just some distractions drivers deal with behind the wheel. Distracted drivers cause 20 percent of all car crashes in the commonwealth every year.
Jones stated, "It's a staggering number. That means those accidents could have been avoided if people were just paying attention to the task of driving."
She is teaching teens about the dangers of distractions. One of the worse culprits is a smartphone. For drivers under 18, any phone use is illegal in Virginia. One parent NBC29 talked to makes his daughter put her phone in the trunk, where it's out of reach.
The best advice may just be to lead by example. "I'm hoping the parents reinforce this at the same time and, in fact, while they're driving they're not using cell phones, they're not texting," said Jones.
Right now, 34 states including Virginia ban texting behind the wheel. Just 9 states and Washington D.C. ban all handheld devices while driving. Albemarle County traffic cops see it all the time.
"They're trying to get work done. They're multi-tasking at high speeds," stated Sgt. Sean Hackney with Albemarle County Police.
In Virginia, police cannot stop drivers just for texting which makes the law hard to enforce. Since it went into effect two years ago this month, Albemarle Police have written four tickets for texting or emailing while driving.
Charlottesville Police wrote just one ticket. The fine for a first offense is $20 and $50 for every one after but officers say cell phone use is a serious safety concern on the road, even comparing the distraction danger to drunk driving.
Hackney explained, "Anytime we have a serious crash that results in a fatality or serious injury, we are going to get your phone records."
Jones reminds soon-to-be licensed drivers that all it takes is a split second for an accident to happen. "You really have to keep your eyes on the road," she said.
Driving instructors recommend pre-setting your GPS and radio before hitting the road. Also, one of the smartest things you can do if you get a call or if the kids are acting up is pull over in a safe spot.