Majority of Va. drivers drive distracted on I-95, or observe it

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton discusses the new campaign against distracted driving. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

DALE CITY, Va. – A new survey from AAA Mid-Atlantic and Transurban-Flor finds that a vast majority of drivers in Virginia along I-95 either drive distracted or have witnessed someone doing so.

Overall, 94 percent of drivers say they’ve witnessed someone driving distracted, with 56 percent admitting to using their phone while driving on I-95.

“They understand it’s dangerous. They’ve heard about it on WTOP. But still, large numbers of them continue to do it,” says Lon Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Transurban-Flor and AAA Mid-Atlantic are teaming up with the Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia State Police to launch “Orange Cone. No Phones.” It’s an effort to make drivers aware to pay special attention to the road while construction is underway on the I-95 Express Lanes, due to open late in 2014.

“The report findings are very unsettling. If anything, it shows how widespread the problem of distracted driving is,” says Capt. Michael Spivey of Virginia State Police.

“Unfortunately, we live in a time where multitasking is the new norm. We’ve shifted this behavior from our officers to our cars. Multi-tasking may have a place in the workplace, but it has none on the road,” Spivey says.

“This is even more important because with the new transportation package, we will be having all sorts of work zones across Virginia in the coming years,” says Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.

The survey also found that nearly 20 percent admit to either texting while driving or reading a text while driving.

On July 1, texting while driving will become a primary offense in Virginia, meaning a police officer can pull you over for it. The fine will also climb from $20 to $125 for a first time offense.

“Folks have to be very much aware that if a police officer sees you driving with your head down or with your hands off the wheel, doing other things, he can pull you over for it. Hopefully this will end up becoming a hammer to prevent people from distracted driving,” says Connaughton.

Just how dangerous is it? Nearly one-quarter of all drivers report a near miss or a traffic accident as a result of their distracted driving behavior. According to several studies, drivers who text are almost three times more likely to get into a crash than non-distracted drivers.

“Why would anyone want to complicate driving by operating an app on an iPhone, read an email from a Blackberry, or change the station on Pandora, especially when you’re going through a work zone,” says Spivey.

The survey involved 943 drivers who frequently travel through the I-95 Express Lanes construction area.

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