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Jailing texters
Texting's allure: Should the law be changed?

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Date published: 12/5/2012

THE STATISTICS prove it: Text-ing while driving is inherently dangerous. Now, what's Virginia going to do about it?

Twenty years ago, software engineer Neil Papworth sent the very first text message--"Merry Christmas"--to an associate, Richard Jarvis. Perhaps the message should have been, "What hath man wrought?" Because two decades later, the facts are clear: Many of us are addicted to our cellphones, and some of us to texting--including while we are behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle traveling down the highway at high speeds. What are we thinking?

Drivers who send or receive texts are 23 times more likely to get into an accident, notes a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study. Sending or reading a text at 55 mph is the equivalent to driving the length of a football field blind. There's a whole lot that can happen in 100 yards.

Four years ago, Virginia stepped into the 21st century, passing a law that makes texting while driving illegal. But it's a secondary offense, like not wearing a seat belt. You have to be stopped for something else before an officer can charge you with texting.

Now a move is afoot in the General Assembly to ramp up the state's law by making texting a primary offense, and possibly folding it into the definition of reckless driving. That could make it punishable by a hefty fine and a year in jail. Says Del. Benjamin Cline, R-Rockbridge, "The potential for jail time will hopefully send a message that we're serious about it."

Gov. McDonnell, questioned on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" program, said he thinks that texting is already covered under the reckless-, improper-, and aggressive-driving statutes. But a recent ruling in Fairfax may contradict that: A judge dropped the reckless driving charge against the driver in a pedestrian-fatality case, ruling that Virginia law considers texting while driving a minor infraction--not proof per se of recklessness.


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