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July 14, 2017

County wants tougher distracted driving law

Last year, 322 traffic accidents in Fauquier involved distracted drivers, according to the sheriff’s office.
One guy . . . (was) charged (with) watching TV while he was driving down the road.
— Supervisor Chris Butler
Distracted Driving
“Driving while doing another activity that takes a driver’s attention away from driving. And, it is a significant and serious danger to everyone in our community.”

— Definition from board of supervisors’ resolution adopted Thursday night
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
With good reason, Fauquier’s board of supervisors wants to crack down on distracted drivers.

In 2015, distracted driving figured into 328 accidents, five deaths and 163 injuries in the county, according to the sheriff’s office.

Last year, 322 Fauquier accidents involving distracted drivers led to five deaths and 172 injuries, the agency reported.

For the first quarter of this year, 88 traffic distracted driving accidents took place in the county, resulting in one fatality and 46 injuries.

At that rate, 2017 would become among the most dangerous years on Fauquier’s highways, with distracted drivers causing 352 accidents, four deaths and 184 injuries.

The supervisors Thursday approved a resolution urging the Virginia General Assembly to give local government and law enforcement officers the authority to get tough with distracted drivers.

But, it remains unclear how officials could craft tougher regulations to address the broad topic of distracted drivers.

Virginia limits use of phones and other electronic devices. Reaching for a cup of coffee or retrieving dropped sunglasses represent other forms of distracted driving that raise questions about enforcement options.

“A lot of people I talked to in Remington are afraid to even get out there and use that light” at Route 29 and Freemans Ford Road “anymore just because they know tractor-trailers and cars alike are zooming right through those red lights,” said Supervisor Chris Butler (Lee District), a member of the county’s Transportation Committee.

Two recent fatal accidents took place at that intersection — last month and in November.

On June 13, two Culpeper residents died at the scene of a three-car accident just north of the intersection.

Two northbound vehicles on Route 29 — a 2000 Oldsmobile Bravado and a 2011 Toyota Corolla — stopped at Freemans Ford Road traffic signal.

The driver of 2003 Ford F-250 pickup truck headed north toward Route 29 failed to stop in time, according to the state police. The impact of that crash spun the Oldsmobile, which contained two passengers, into the median where the car caught fire.

The state police have placed no charges in the accident, which remains under investigation.

The day after Thanksgiving, a traffic accident at Freemans Ford and James Madison Highway resulted in the death of 5-year-old Samuel Legg of New Baltimore. 

In March, a Fauquier County General District Court judge convicted a Stafford County woman of reckless driving in Samuel’s death. 

Judge J. Gregory Ashwell sentenced Felicia Arbujo to 12 months in jail, fined her $2,500 and suspended her license for six months.

Ms. Arbujo, who has appealed her conviction to the Fauquier County Circuit Court, remains free on bond.

The supervisors Tuesday night approved another resolution asking the Virginia Department of Transportation to:

• Set a 45-mph speed limit for northbound and southbound Route 29 traffic approaching Freemans Ford Road.

• Reduce the speed limit along Route 29 — between Opal to the traffic signal at Route 28 — from 60 to 55 mph.

• Install rumble strips along Route 29 at the intersection of Route 29 and Freeman’s Ford Road. VDOT already has already make that safety improvement. The state agency also will conduct a speed and safety study of the corridor, Deputy County Administrator Katie Heritage.

Both the state police and deputies have stepped up patrols along the dangerous highway since the deadly accidents.

During the last two months, for example, state troopers have issued more than 300 traffic tickets in the Remington area, Mr. Butler said.

“One guy . . . (was) charged (with) watching TV while he was driving down the road,” the board vice chairman said.

While Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) supports the proposed measures to make Route 29 near Freemans Ford road safer, “this is not nearly enough,” he said during the board meeting Tuesday night. “What we really need . . . is increased enforcement here.

“We’ve seen heightened visibility and extra enforcement there. Sheriff (Bob Mosier), thank you very much. But we also know — given the manpower you have now — that it just means you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The solution requires putting “more deputies on the road,” Mr. Trumbo said. “We need heightened, permanent presence and increased enforcement on these roads.”

He also believes Fauquier needs to push the state legislature to provide funding to increase the salaries and ranks of state troopers, “because, frankly, lowering the speed limit, without enforcement, is optimistic at best.”

Persuading state legislators to amend laws to address distracted driving concerns or giving local governments to do so requires citizen participation, Mr. Trumbo said.

“Hearing from lots of citizens is compelling,” he said. “And it helps them go to their colleagues to say ‘I have a stack of emails, phone calls on this’ — to know that it’s real, it’s not someone tilting at a windmill here.

“So please, stay engaged, citizens. Reach out and let your legislators know.”

Fauquier Distracted Driving Legislation Resolution by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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bblimber · July 17, 2017 at 12:22 pm
Laws will NOT solve the distracted driving issue. Cell phones have become like crack cocaine - where everyone - even intelligent, normally courteous or well intentioned people fall prey to the "...its just a moment to check that text" fallacy. This issue can ONLY be solved by some technology that prevents cell phone use while driving. Period. Unfortunately, there are strong and well funded sources that will fight any real technological soultion because it conflicts with their $pecial interest. Given that, it will take the deaths of numerous high place politicians or their familiy members before this will get the attention and action it deserves. Or, a class action lawsuit brought by existing victims and their families against the cell phone crack pushers (aka AT&T, Verizon, Samsung, Apple etc.) But this problem is so insidious - I'm not holding my breath.
DelRichAnderson · July 17, 2017 at 7:40 am
Excellent article and action by the Fauquier Board. I represent Prince William County in the House of Delegates and for a half-dozen years have been working on distracted driving legislation. In 2013, I worked with both parties to pass a bipartisan prohibition against texting while driving. In subsequent years, I carried legislation to address other distracted behaviors, but have not been successful in getting a bill to the Governor's desk. This past year, my bill failed by one vote in committee, which means we're getting ever closer. Now is the time to go the distance and prohibit other distractions behind the wheel. Working with Drive Smart Virginia, I am crafting a bill for the 2018 legislative session that will give Virginia citizens the protections they need against irresponsible drivers. Will we zero out fatalities and injuries? No. Will we begin the process of trending down the number of fatalities and injuries? Yes. Thanks to the Fauquier Board for its insights into this problem. Let's pray that 2018 will be the year when Virginia aggressively addresses this very dangerous and deadly problem of distracted driving on Virginia roads. Del. Rich Anderson, 51st House District
1baldeagle · July 16, 2017 at 7:27 pm
I totally agree with Supervisor Butler and other writers. It is disappointing and sad to see lives lost at an intersection that is on a straight section of highway with good visibility because many of today’s drivers are making bad decisions. Traffic is terrible. Drivers are speeding, being aggressive, and being distracted by cell phones and car dash boards that have a large assortment of dials, gages, buttons and levers. Driving while using cell phones is an epidemic that won’t be fixed overnight. Look at the driving while intoxicated problem. It has been a problem for over 50 years and is still one of the top problems today. And while laws for using a hand held cell phone while driving should be strengthened it’s a long time problem. There needs to be a quicker fix. Getting Richmond involved is like watching cars rust.

However it is more disappointing that VDOT isn’t stepping up to the plate with some good solutions. All the heavy work is now being done by the Sheriff and SP. After the earlier life was lost last November VDOT was going to take action. VDOT said back in March that they were going to study the problem. After months of study we now have a cross over for law enforcement and we have rumble strips. WOW, what progress.

Things that can be done quickly!!! Low cost and effective.

Reduce the speed limit to 45 MPH for at least ½ mile each side of the intersection. Only requires signage.

Eliminate the “right turn on red” ability from Freemans Ford Road because there are no acceleration lanes on Route 15/29. All that’s required is “No turn on Red” signs.

Change the sequence of the traffic signal. When the light changes to red on Route 15/29 the left turn lanes should move first before the green lights for Freemans Ford Road. Reason: Traffic turning left has a much better line of sight of approaching traffic on 15/29.

Eliminate the “left turn on flashing yellow” ability. Reason: Take the “I think I can make it” decision away from the driver. Also, the driver on 15/29 coming in the opposite direction has a green light and doesn’t expect someone cutting in front of them. Even if he lifts or touches the brakes causes a change in traffic flow.

I’m confused by the inconsistency so I have couple of questions for VDOT.
Not very far north on 15 / 29 at the intersection with 15 / 29 and the entrance/ exit from LFCC is a traffic signal. Much of the same traffic and similar volume that goes through the intersection with 15 / 29 and Freemans Ford Road also goes through this intersection. Question. Why doesn’t this intersection (near LFCC) have “left turn after yield on flashing yellow lights”?

Also, being this intersection is similar to the Freeman Ford / 15/29 intersection, why does the LFCC road have a “No turn on Red” sign for turns to go north on 15/29?

Probably about ten years ago the Fauquier Democrat did an article with information provided by the Sheriff at that time regarding dangerous intersections. If I recall correctly most of the top ten intersections were ones with the “left turn after yield lights”. Would be good to see which intersections top the list today.
Pedrossos · July 15, 2017 at 9:31 am
It is not just Remington, try sitting at the Rt29 and Beverleys Mill Road light some day and watch how many semis blow through the light on 29 as it turns red, they travel way too fast to even attempt to stop.

The issue is all along 29 from Gainesville to Opal and beyond, better police presence would help and perhaps day I suggest it Red Light Cameras
citizen observer · July 14, 2017 at 5:57 pm
Good job! Get the phones out of driver's hands. There is plenty of tech devices available to keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, if you need to talk while driving.

Maryland and West Virginia both have realized their old laws were not functional and passed law that were enforceable. Basically if they see you driving with a phone in your hands you can get pulled over.

This problem is starting to surpass drunk driving as a problem. Time to fix it.
BJ · July 14, 2017 at 1:30 pm
Rumble Bars would definitely be a good idea. Changing the speed limit in MHO would not change a thing since no one appears to be going the current speed limit at it is (they are generally going much faster then posted). Make any offense where distracted driving caused the accident AND someone is killed a felony.
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