By Joe Beck
Distracted Driving Awareness Month arrived last week in Virginia with a bigger splash than usual when Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signed a new law making cell phone texting a primary traffic offense.
Meanwhile, several police agencies in the Northern Shenandoah Valley are planning activities that coincide with the month-long statewide effort mounted by Drive Smart Virginia against distracted driving.
Lauren Cummings, a community relations specialist with the Winchester police, said the department will be handing out flyers to high school students on April 15 and asking them to commit to stop using cell phones while driving.
"If we're able to prevent even one accident from this outreach and educating folks, then it's worth it," Cummings said.
Sgt. Sam Carr of the Warren County Sheriff's Office said the department will be participating at the Wellness Expo at Warren County High School on April 20. A police car specially outfitted with a simulator designed to allow students to experience distracted driving without exposing them to actual risk will be at the event, Carr said.
"We get the students time behind the wheel to see how easily you can get distracted," Carr said. "With the simulator, nobody gets hurt."
Carr said the simulator car also will be available to employees of the Virginia Department of Transportation who attend the agency's safety day event on Friday at the 4-H Center.
Maj. Scott Proctor of the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office said his department will probably make some announcements on its Facebook page or other social media to draw attention to Distracted Driving Month.
Proctor and other local police officials said they saw no need to make any special preparations for the distracted driving law when it takes effect July 1. Elevating distracted driving to a primary offense allows law enforcement officers to issue tickets without first needing some other reason to stop a driver who is texting while driving.
A first violation will cost the driver $125, and $250 for a second offense.
"The deputies, they're doing everything they can to protect the road out there and save lives," Proctor said. "I don't think we have to do anything special."
A study by Virginia Tech University concluded that 80 percent of the vehicle accidents within the state involved districted driving within three seconds of the crash.
said Rob Richardson, spokesman for Drive Smart Virginia, noted, "The study Virginia Tech did shows just how pervasive a problem texting is."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com