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Distracted Driving Awareness Month sheds light on fatal accidents

Driving without giving one's complete attention to the road can lead to a host of serious problems: fatal motor vehicle accidents, allegations of negligence, medical and even funeral expenses, the loss of loved ones, and police investigations. While Virginia has been proactive in crafting laws against distracted driving, its by-products are still all too common on local roads.

A recent study reveals just how deadly this type of driving can be. Dialing cell phones, as well as texting, led to a marked increase in one's risk for an accident. The study found that drivers who texted behind the wheel were 23 times more likely to crash.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reports that in 2010, more than 1,400 crashes involved cell phone use as an accident contributor. Of the total 25,597 crashes caused by distracted driving, 122 of them featured a fatality. This is especially important to remember as April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

In Virginia, sending a text message while driving is not only illegal, it's extremely dangerous. Reading a text message when operating a motor vehicle is also against the law and it also places other drivers and passengers at risk of injury or death. A total of 36 states now have some form of law against the risky practice.

However, while the Virginia law and other state bans may seem clear-cut, evolving technology may muddle prosecution of these crimes. Many smart phones feature relatively large screens. If a driver merely picks up his or her phone to look at the screen, confusion could arise as to whether the action is illegal or not.

In addition, new GPS technology may prove as distracting as cell phone usage; in fact, many cell phones now have maps and directions applications that are applicable mainly to drivers. As gadgets continue to offer distractions to motorists, Virginians should remain up to date on the laws surrounding their driving habits.

Source: WPRI, "Distracted driving awareness month," March 26, 2012

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