Driver Distraction (copy)

In this Wednesday, June 22, 2016, file photo, a driver uses her mobile phone while sitting in traffic in Sacramento, Calif.

DOES it seem to you like smartphones are making us dumb and dumber? 

One recent survey seems to confirm this.

While the findings indicate no increase in overall distracted driving, Virginia drivers still were “57 percent more likely to be manipulating a cellphone than drivers in a 2014 survey,” the institute reported.

And this after new laws and information campaigns have flooded the airwaves since distracted driving became a public-safety concern.

In Virginia, texting is banned for all drivers, while drivers younger than 18 are banned from using cellphones.

A pair of bills in the House and Senate aim to strengthen the law in Virginia, making any interaction with a cellphone while driving a primary offense. Sen. Richard Stuart, R–Stafford, introduced one of the bills.

The institute pointed out that the latest research shows the risk of a deadly crash increases by 66 percent when a driver fiddles with the phone, and estimated that more than 800 of the 37,000 roadway deaths nationwide in 2017 were due to cellphone use by a driver.

And those distracted driver statistics more than likely are low since it is a difficult thing to prove.

“The latest data suggest that drivers are using their phones in riskier ways,” David Kidd, who co-authored the study and a senior research scientist with Highway Loss Data Institute, said in a release on the findings.

It’s not just phones that distract us, though.

The report lists other distractions (smoking, grooming, adjusting the radio or GPS, wearing earphones, to name a few) that take the attention of drivers off the road.

“When people talk about distracted driving, most often cellphones are the focus, but drivers are distracted by other secondary behaviors more often than cellphones,” Kidd points out. “Things as simple as drinking coffee or talking to your kids can take your attention away from the road.”

School bus scofflaws

Speaking of dumb and dumber, last week nine drivers in Spotsylvania got a dose of the blue light special for passing school buses stopped with stop signs out and red lights flashing.

You have to try to fail that test.

The Sheriff’s Office said deputies patrolled areas where there had been complaints about school bus scofflaws whizzing past stopped buses.

“It is my goal to reduce the amount of illegal passing of school buses so that tragedies are avoided,” Sheriff Roger Harris said in a release. “Too often we have seen these tragedies unfold across the nation. I ask that we come together to help protect our future.”

Deputies will continue the beefed up patrols throughout the school year.

Rappahannock River crossing update

The designs for the second leg of the Rappahannock River crossing projects will be on display Wednesday.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will hold an informational meeting on the northbound crossing project from 5 to 7 p.m. at James Monroe High School.

Work on the southbound crossing has already started.

The projects will add three collector–distributor lanes each way running parallel to the primary Interstate 95 lanes. The new lanes will run from State Route 3 in Fredericksburg to the U.S. 17 area in Stafford County. The crossing lanes will tap into the tolled express lanes, which are being extended from North Stafford to U.S. 17.

Comments on the plans can be made at the meeting.

Comments also can be sent by mail or email. Mailed comments should be addressed to: Mr. William Arel, VDOT MegaProjects Engineer, Virginia Department of Transportation, 87 Deacon Road, Fredericksburg, VA 22405. Emailed comments should be sent to: William.Arel@VDOT.Virginia.Gov, with “I-95 NB Rappahannock River Crossing Public Comment” in the email subject line.

Work on the northbound project is slated to start in 2020 and wrap up in 2023. The southbound project is scheduled for completion in 2022.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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