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Despite the overwhelming evidence that using a phone while driving is dangerous, Virginia still doesn’t have a law in place that prohibits hand held cell phone use by drivers over 18. With that in mind, Virginia lawmakers have begun to discuss a newly proposed hands-free cell phone law with the hope that Virginia drivers will be more incentivized to not use their phones. It is believed that this, in turn, would decrease the number of collisions caused by distracted drivers.

Last year, Virginia Delegate Christopher Collins came close to passing a bill to expand current distracted driving laws directed to adults, which today only prohibit reading a text message, email, or typing into the phone manually. Collins’ proposed law would have broadened the scope of illegal behavior to include all handheld communications that substantially divert the driver’s attention from the road. Unfortunately, it was not passed because lawmakers feared that police officers would use it as an excuse to pull over minorities more often.

Now, Collins is trying once again through his proposal for a completely hands-free bill for the Commonwealth  of Virginia. Describing the law in his own words, Collins states simply that “if you have your phone in your hand, that’s a violation.” This would expand current restrictions and make it illegal for drivers to hold a phone to their ear during a call, browse apps, or surf the web. They would also be unable to use a GPS or stream music features without mounting their phone to the windshield or dashboard.

While this bill is a step in the right direction, hands-free phone laws alone will not solve the problem of distracted driving. (That will only occur when all of us recognize the risk that we pose to ourselves and others when we use a cell phone while driving.) With manual, visual, and cognitive distractions being the three major types of distractions, it would likely help drivers avoid the manual distraction of moving their hands off the wheel, as well as the visual distraction of moving their eyes from the road to their phone. It would not, however, address cognitive distractions, which occur when drivers aren’t completely focused on the road (e.g., being mentally engaged in a conversation).

Being cognitively distracted results in “inattention blindness,” which means that while your eyes may see a sudden unexpected object, the object is not registering in your distracted brain. As such, drivers miss traffic signs, traffic signals, or crosswalks. By way of personal experience, before I started presenting the END Distracted Driving talks (which covers inattentive blindness) to new and current drivers, I routinely used a hand-free cell phone while I was driving thinking it was safe. I realized it was not when I talked hand-free during a two-hour highway trip and had no recollection of the drive when I arrived home. It was as if my mind was on auto-pilot.

If a distracted driving accident has impacted you or a loved one, or you would be interested in having me speak to a group about the dangers of distracted driving, call us at 703-836-3366, email tcurcio@curciolaw.com, or visit us at curciolaw.com and we will follow up with you right away.

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