The Virginia State Police recently implemented a new policing tactic to combat texting while driving. In District VI, which covers the Salem and Roanoke area, police officers have begun taking pictures of drivers in the act of texting, using these photographs as evidence to pull over and fine perpetrators.
Until last year, texting was a secondary offense in Virginia, meaning a police officer could only pull a texter over if they were committing another offense, such as speeding or reckless driving, as well. But on July 1, 2013, texting was declared a primary offense, enabling officers to pull drivers over for texting alone. This legislative reform, combined with innovative measures such as those in District VI, have greatly improved roadway safety in Virginia, according to a VSP release.
A 2014 Virginia State Police news release said 20 percent of 2013 fatal car accidents in Virginia were caused by texting while driving, accounting for roughly 131 deaths. During the first six months with texting as a primary offense, 567 individuals were charged.
Sergeant Robert Carpentieri has played a critical role in the institution of District VI’s new program. Carpentieri said the use of photographic evidence eliminates any question of doubt and forces perpetrators to accept responsibility for their actions.
“When a patrol officer is in a regular police car, and it’s low to the ground, it’s hard to observe these types of violations because people are not always going to hold the phone up to their face and text like that,” Carpentieri said. “It’s not an easy violation to spot and to enforce.”
The new policy has effectively overcome the challenges presented when enforcing the law. Officers in Carpentieri’s district managed to ticket 26 offenders in just the first eight hours, suggesting the program will only become more effective as the Virginia State Police are able to devote more resources to it.
Moreover, Carpentieri said, pulling over an individual for texting while driving can often lead to charges for other offenses. Describing these charges, Carpentieri said that, “some of them are for suspended licenses, [and] one was a drug charge.”
The fine for the first texting offense is $125, and the minimum fine for a second offense is $250.
Carpentieri said the new policy is strictly a safety precaution.
“The main premise behind this is that we’re trying to make the roads safer for people to travel on [and] come up with new initiatives to try to reduce traffic crashes and fatalities,” Carpentieri said. “[Texting while driving] is definitely a distraction and statistics prove that.”
First-year College Student Evan Rosen said texting while driving “is something that’s clearly unsafe and should be put to an end.”
Rosen said the Virginia State Police’s new policy is particularly relevant to University students, saying young adults are at risk of committing an offense “more so than any other age group, because we grew up texting.”