The Fairfax County Police Department will be looking for motorists who are engaging in distracting behaviors such as texting while driving as part of their distracted driver campaign. In order to make the roadways a safer place for all drivers, police officers will be present at busy intersections throughout the county and issuing summons to all drivers they catch in the act.
"We're trying to change the cultural thought process that it's okay to do these behaviors in the car," said Captain Susan Culin, Commander of the FCPD Traffic Division at the media-only kick-off event at the department training grounds in Chantilly, VA. "It's gotten very commonplace in this area. People are very busy, they're in a rush all the time, and they tend to use their drive time to catch up on messages, to eat a meal, and it's making their driving very dangerous."
According the Culin, the county is working on how to address the problem of texting and driving and other distracted behavior without a specific law that deems it illegal. So far, officers have been using the failure to pay full time and attention while driving statue, which the department has been historically used in crash cases.
Officers are looking for and will be issuing citations for behavior such as weaving, not proceeding when there is a green light, and other telltale behaviors.
Distracted driving is a nationwide problem. A recent study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly 80 percent of all crashes, and 65 percent of all near-crashes, involved driver inattention due to distraction.
"When you start seeing study after study come out that says 80 percent of crashes are a result of distracted driving, we've got to look at a way to do something about it," said Culin.
Annandale residents and drivers are aware of the serious risk involved with texting and driving and agree with Culin that something needs to be done before the problem gets worse.
"I think it should be banned," said Ahmed Karim. "If you're texting and driving, you're not fully attentive on the road. You can definitely cause somebody serious damage."
Drivers like Miyeko Keem of Annandale was happy to hear about the police department's efforts to put a stop to texting and driving and said she found the behavior "really stupid" even though she'd done it a couple of times.
Though they will be ones enforcing these rules, Mastor Police Officer Allie Eggers with the Traffic Safety Division says police officers are not immune to distractions while driving, noting their laptops, radio, and other technology used in their vehicles.
"I think all of us, police included, are just trying to be more aware and safe," said Eggers. Most police vehicles now have voice all systems that update the officers as they drive around.
In addition to their increased enforcement effort, Fairfax County Police have released a survey that focuses on texting while driving. Officials want to measure and assess public attitudes and behaviors about distracted driving in Fairfax County so they can best determine and target their traffic safety education efforts. The online survey is now posted for public participation at the department's website. School resource officers throughout the county are also encouraging teen drivers to participate.
"We've got to change the cultural acceptance that it's okay to do all this while you're driving; it's not," said Culin.
The distracted driver campaign will run through June 2011. Visit the Traffic Safety Division website for tips, other issues, and more information about the campaign.