80 Percent of Crashes in Virginia Tied to Distracted Driving, AAA Survey Says

42 percent of those who text while driving say they've had an accident or a near miss

Nearly 20 percent of drivers on Interstate 95 in Virginia confess to texting while driving, according to a new report from AAA.

Those numbers seem to translate into another upsetting statistic: Eight out of 10 traffic accidents in the Commonwealth are related to distracted driving.

That's the focus of AAA's "Orange Comes, No Phones" report released Tuesday morning, which zeroes in on the I-95 corridor as construction gets under way on the route's new express lanes, which will run from Edsall Road in Alexandria down to Stafford County.

Existing HOV lanes will be converted into express lanes, with a third lane to be added at the northern end of the route. More work includes the construction of nine new bridges and four flyovers.

But all that construction means that about 1,500 workers will be on the roads each day, and concerns are rising about their safety.

The study surveyed more than 900 drivers who frequently travel through the I-95 construction zone. A fifth of them say they've nearly had an accident due to distractions -- and three percent of them have had an accident.

Those numbers skyrocket among those who admitted to reading or writing texts while driving: 42 percent say they've had an accident or a near miss.

In the District, hand-held cell phone use was banned back in 2004, with phones banned altogether for drivers younger than 18. Texting while driving is illegal.

Maryland laws are similar to D.C.'s, with hand-held devices and texting while driving banned.

Previously the sole holdout in the DMV region, Virginia's been cracking down on texting while driving lately. The Commonwealth has ramped up fines and changed the offense from a secondary to a primary one, which means drivers can now be pulled over for doing it.

For the family of Kyle Rowley -- who died alongside a Herndon road in 2011 -- those laws came too late. Rowley, whose car had run out of gas, was pushing his car to the shoulder when he was hit by a vehicle driven by Jason Gage, according to authorities.

Gage's cell phone showed nine text messages sent or received by Gage in the minutes leading up to the crash, police said.

But lack of awareness isn't the problem, AAA says.

Among the drivers in the AAA study, 75 percent say they've read or seen a recent news study about the risks of distracted driving.

Still, only two-thirds of them have changed their behavior while driving through the I-95 construction zone, the study says.

What would work? In fall 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended a complete ban of all portable electronics, except for those specifically designed for driving tasks, such as GPS devices.


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