By Joe Beck
The state's new ban on texting while driving produced only a handful a convictions among Northern Shenandoah Valley drivers in the first six months after it took effect.
Preliminary numbers compiled by the state Department of Motor Vehicles show a total of 20 convictions in Frederick, Warren and Shenandoah counties and Winchester from July 1 through Dec. 31. The data show a total of 725 convictions statewide during the same period.
The numbers for each jurisdiction ranged from a high of eight in Frederick County to six in Warren County, five in Winchester and one in Shenandoah County.
Fairfax County, the state's most heavily populated, recorded the highest number of convictions with 168, followed by Virginia Beach with 71. The number of convictions was heavily concentrated in Fairfax and neighboring Prince William, Arlington and Loudon counties.
But the correlation between convictions and the number of people and cars in specific jurisdictions wasn't perfect. Roanoke had 17 convictions, two more than the much larger city of Richmond.
Anna Hammond, assistant commonwealth's attorney in Warren County, said she had seen few police citations for texting while driving come across her desk.
"We prosecute the cases we get," Hammond said, adding that she had no explanation for the disparity in conviction numbers between the Northern Virginia suburbs and the rest of the state.
Drivers convicted for a first offense are subject to a $125 fine and $250 for subsequent convictions.
The passage of texting-while-driving in 2013 made it a primary offense, which means police can stop drivers for the sole reason of texting. Under the previous law, police could only issue a citation if they stopped a driver for another offense. The old law carried a fine of only $20.
Martha M. Meade, a spokeswoman for AAA in Virginia, said her organization is a stronger backer of the law as a way of deterring drivers from taking their eyes off the road. She cited a 2009 Virginia Tech study showing drivers are 23 times more likely to be in a crash while texting.
Meade said she was heartened by a recent poll conducted by AAA that showed 24 percent of those surveyed had stopped texting or are doing so far less as a result of the law's passage.
"From our perspective, that is good news," Meade said, "because it means that since the law became a primary enforcement law, it's making some people change their behavior."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org