In 2017, more than 20% of all car accidents in Virginia involved a distracted driver. Not only that, but distracted drivers contributed to one-quarter of all fatal crashes.
Unfortunately, Virginia’s distracted driving laws have significant flaws and fail to make our roads safer. Keep reading to learn more about Virginia’s distraction epidemic and find out what you can do if a distracted driver has injured you.
Distracted Drivers Put Us All at Risk
Distracted driving occurs when a driver focuses on another activity instead of the road. While distractions like food, music, and rowdy passengers have been taking people’s minds and eyes off the road for as long as cars have existed, there’s no question that electronic devices like smartphones have made the problem much worse.
In general, traffic safety experts who study distracted driving classify distraction into three different types:
- Cognitive: Your mind isn’t fully focused on driving
- Manual: You physically take your hands off the wheel to perform another activity
- Visual: Your eyes are focused on something else besides the road in front of you
Using a cell phone or other electronic device when you drive is especially dangerous because it involves all three types of distraction and severely impairs driving performance. Still, at any given moment during the day, there are more than 600,000 people holding a phone while driving in the United States.
Unfortunately, most people refuse to believe smartphone use impacts their driving. A 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey found that more than half of all drivers think that cell phone use doesn’t influence their driving performance. The survey also found that about 25% of drivers believe texting while driving doesn’t affect their ability to drive safely.
Ironically, 90% of drivers in the same survey said it made them very uncomfortable to ride with someone else who is texting while driving.
Virginia’s Distracted Driving Laws Miss the Mark
Texting while driving is illegal in Virginia. Under current law, drivers cannot manually enter text on an electronic handheld device or read an email or text message while driving. However, drivers can still look up and input phone numbers, use GPS systems, and use their devices to contact emergency services.
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Critics of Virginia’s current distracted driving law argue that it’s outdated and doesn’t address the wide range of ways people use modern smartphones. The narrow language of the current law allows people to scroll through a social media feed, snap photos, and engage in video chat while driving. And because there are so many exceptions to the current ban, it’s very difficult to enforce.
Statistics on distracted driving show that the current law hasn’t done much good since its passage in 2009. Between 2007 and 2014, the rate of distracted driving fatalities in our state rose by 96%.
In 2018, the Virginia legislature considered a bill which would have required hands-free use of all handheld electronic devices while driving. The bill inspired lots of debate, but in the end, it failed to pass. At Phelan Petty, we continue to advocate for stricter distracted driving laws in Virginia.
What Should I Do After a Distracted Driving Crash?
When a distracted driver injures you or a loved one, you need to act quickly. First, call 911 to report the crash and request emergency medical treatment for your injuries. Second, when the police arrive, cooperate with their investigation and voice your concerns that the other driver was distracted or using their phone. If possible, ask someone to take photos of the crash scene and get the names and addresses of the distracted driver and any witnesses.
Once you’ve received appropriate medical care for your injuries, your next step should be to contact an experienced injury lawyer. Even if the distracted driver denies using their phone, your lawyer can work with digital forensic experts and uncover the truth by sifting through the other driver’s mobile phone records and electronic data. Sometimes, experts can even recover data from a phone after the owner deleted the data or wiped the phone entirely.
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The longer you wait to get help from a lawyer, the lower your chances are of uncovering evidence of distracted driving. Over time, witnesses’ memories fade and data gets purged. You’ll also need to file your claims before Virginia’s two-year statute of limitations expires; if you don’t file a lawsuit within two years of your crash, you’ll automatically lose your right to compensation. For more information about this filing deadline, contact Phelan Petty immediately.
Phelan Petty: Advocates for Victims of Distracted Driving in Virginia
The team of attorneys at Phelan Petty specializes in handling serious injury claims, including those involving drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and other individuals who have suffered life-changing injuries because of distracted driving. We use sophisticated investigative techniques and an aggressive approach in all our cases, and our sole focus is helping our clients and aiding their recovery.
Distracted driving. (n.d.). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving
HB 181 Improper driving; use of handheld communication device while driving vehicle. (n.d.). LIS. Retrieved from https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?181+sum+HB181
Va. Code § 46.2–1078.1. (2018). Retrieved from https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title46.2/chapter10/section46.2-1078.1/
Virginia Highway Safety Office. (2017). 2017 Virginia traffic crash facts. Richmond, VA: Virginia Highway Safety Office. Retrieved from https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/safety/crash_data/crash_facts/crash_facts_17.pdf
Virginia Highway Safety Office. (2015). Virginia highway safety trends. Richmond, VA: Virginia Highway Safety Office. Retrieved from https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/safety/resources/vahso_trends.pdf
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.