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Va. transportation secretary: Distracted driving a 'major problem'

Thursday - 5/8/2014, 12:15pm  ET

DALE CITY, Va. -- Drivers in the D.C. area are sending text messages and talking behind the wheel more than last year, despite an increased number of construction projects that clutter roadways and make the practice even more dangerous, a new report finds.

"Distracted driving is a major problem," says Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne. "Lives are at stake."

State officials joined members of law enforcement and other organizations at a rest stop off Interstate 95 Thursday to highlight findings of research from Transurban-Fluor and AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The second annual report, which is based on a survey of 1,023 drivers who live in Northern Virginia and frequently travel the 95 Express Lanes project corridor, finds 62 percent of drivers who use I-95 daily are likely to use a cellphone behind the wheel. That is up from 56 percent in 2013.

At the same time, construction activity on I-95 has skyrocketed as crews work on new Express Lanes and other projects.

"Distracted driving is dangerous under the best conditions -- it is even more dangerous in a work zone," Aubrey says.

According to the report, 31 percent of distracted drivers on I-95 have had a traffic incident or near-miss as a result of their behavior. That figure is up from 24 percent last year.

The majority of distracted drivers blame demands of their jobs.

According to the survey, drivers respond to work-related issues while on the road for the following reasons:

  • 31 percent believe an immediate response is expected;
  • 27 percent think multitasking saves time;
  • 17 percent need to make sure the issue is not an emergency.

"Employers must actively work to change their culture and discourage employees from driving distracted by changing policy," says Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman.

"Changing behavior to save lives demands aggressive action," Anderson says.

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