Virginia’s hands-free law takes effect on January 1, and that means it will be illegal to drive holding any personal communications device in Arlington or elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
The law was signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam during the summer. Police will now be able to pull over drivers if they are seen to be holding cell phones.
Previously, only texting or emailing while driving was against the law.
Last year, there were 23,000 crashes in Virginia attributed to distracted driving, resulting in 120 deaths, Northam said in a news conference earlier this month.
Drivers can talk hands-free, but if caught holding a phone they face fines of $125 for a first offense, and $250 for a second offense or if drivers are holding phones in a construction zone.
There are some exceptions:
- Drivers of emergency vehicles can use handheld devices
- Drivers can hold devices while stopped or parked
- Drivers can hold devices when reporting emergencies
- Virginia Department of Transportation vehicle drivers can use handheld devices while performing traffic incident management services
Distracted driving is a community issue that needs to be addressed. Effective January 1st, 2021, it will be illegal to hold a hand-held communications device while driving in Virginia. Do your part, stay alert and attentive on the road. #DriveSmart #PhoneDown pic.twitter.com/y6mPnHhq1F
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) December 17, 2020
“Last year, believe it or not, there were more than 23,000 — I’ll repeat that, 23,000 — crashes in Virginia that were caused by distracted driving, & 120 of those individuals lost their lives,” Governor Ralph Northam said.https://t.co/WodQo9HmaM
— VDOT (@VaDOT) December 9, 2020
Study: Arlington Has Safest Drivers in Va. — The insurance website Insurify says Arlington has the safest drivers in Virginia. Drivers in the county “demonstrate exceptional dedication to their own safety and to the safety of others around them,” the website says. [Insurify]
Local Toll Lanes May Be Sold — “Transurban is selling off stakes in its US toll roads because it wants to strengthen its balance sheet… Transurban owns the 95 Express Lanes, 495 Express Lanes and 395 Express Lanes toll roads near the US capital, but traffic on the motorways has been hard hit by the pandemic… The Virginia assets have the longest concession periods of Transurban’s assets with asset lives out to 2087.” [Australian Financial Review]
Police Response at Va. Square Metro — Metro Transit Police and Arlington County Police responded to the Virginia Square Metro station last night for a person who jumped on the track bed. Orange and Silver Line trains were stopped in both directions while the person was taken into custody. [Twitter]
Arrest Made in Silver Line Sexual Assault — “Metro Transit Police today arrested the individual suspected of an attempted rape Tuesday, October 6 aboard a Silver Line train in Northern Virginia. Kendrie Roberts-Monticue, 21, of Reston, was taken into custody this morning at the home of a family member in Virginia.” [WMATA]
Metro Closure Planned in Early 2021 — “Arlington Cemetery and Addison Road stations will be closed for approximately three months for full platform replacement and station renovation… [During the work] Yellow Line trains will provide all trans-Potomac service for stations Pentagon and south.” [WMATA]
APS Getting More CARES Act Funding — “More than $220 million in federal coronavirus relief is headed to Virginia schools, according to an announcement from Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday… Arlington County schools will receive $4.7 million.” [DCist]
‘Tiger King’ Star Indicted in Va. — Updated at 8:30 a.m. — “Following an investigation by Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s animal law unit, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, has been charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty” [Press Release]
Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
Va. to Step Up Restaurant Enforcement — “Recognizing an increase in COVID-19 cases in parts of the state, particularly in the Hampton Roads area, Gov. Ralph Northam is increasing enforcement of the state’s rules around the coronavirus… State licensing agencies will be conducting unannounced visits to establishments, as needed, and the state health department is shifting an additional 100 staff members to its existing team of 500 inspectors.” [InsideNova]
Barrels Fail to Stop Rogue I-395 Driver — Someone stopped their car on a highway, got out, and moved an orange barrel in order to avoid a slight delay while driving from Arlington to D.C. on I-395. [Twitter]
County Board to Approve Arts Grants — “Arlington County Board members on July 18 are slated to approve approximately $216,000 in annual grants for arts organizations… Each of the 21 organizations that requested funding saw at least part of their request fulfilled; in addition, two of four individual artists seeking funding garnered a grant.” [InsideNova]
Local National Merit Scholars — Nine Arlington students are among the National Merit Scholarship winners for 2020. [Patch]
Arlington Students Ace Latin Exam — “According to Arlington Public Schools about 130,000 students across the country take the [National Latin Exam] which focuses on vocabulary, grammar, Roman cultural history and mythology. Nineteen students in the school system were among the few who achieved perfection.” [WJLA]
Flickr pool photo by Vincent
(Updated at 1:10 p.m.) The “How’s My Driving” cycling safety app is planning an event in Arlington tomorrow to collect data on bike lane violations.
App co-creator Mark Sussman told ARLnow that a team of about 40 people are gearing up to hit streets in Crystal City, Ballston, and Rosslyn on Thursday to count the number of times vehicles block bike lanes. The volunteers will track the bike lane violations on S. Crystal Drive, Fairfax Drive, and N. Lynn Street by reporting blockages through the app, which will share the data through a live dashboard.
“Crystal Drive and Lynn Street are just consistently blocked,” said Sussman. “The problem is that we don’t understand the size and the scope of the problem.”
Video recently posted to Twitter shows multiple stopped vehicles blocking the Crystal Drive bike lane. An Arlington County Police tweet from this summer showed a similar violation on Crystal Drive leading to a traffic ticket.
Motor Officers conducted high visibility traffic enforcement along Crystal Drive today to curb illegal practices including stopping/parking in the bike and travel lanes. Increase roadway safety be being a PAL – Predictable | Alert | Lawful. pic.twitter.com/YKmrkCXz2u
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) July 17, 2019
Sussman and his partner and co-creator Daniel Schep, a software engineer, are hoping data collected by volunteers tomorrow during the morning and evening rush hours and lunchtime can help fix that.
— How's My Driving (@hmdappio) October 15, 2019
Currently, only app users in the District can report violations through the app and see how many other violations the driver has racked up on that vehicle — courtesy of a bot that fetches the DMV data. But Susan and Schep have been eyeing expansion into Arlington for months as the app gained popularity and people began reporting violations across the Potomac, too.
The pair say they’re hoping Thursday acts as a demonstration of what kind of real-time data officials could have access to if they contract with “How’s My Driving” in the future.
Volunteers are also out collecting bike lane blockage data today in Pittsburgh. Previously, people helped with a data collection day in D.C. which yielded 700 violations, and another one for bus lane blockages that tracked 300 violations.
“When you get that amount of data, patterns really start to emerge. You can use that data in aggregate both for enforcement purpose and transportation planning,” said Sussman.
However the app creator emphasized that these data collection days are not designed for enforcement purposes, and act as more of a proof of concept.
“No one is getting citations. No one is reporting to authorities,” said Sussman. “The data is only reported in aggregate in a presentation to the county. It would never be used to call out for specific vehicles.”
“The overall effort is not to shame or expose particular violators,” he added.
Photo by Sal Ferro
Arlington County is pledging to eliminate road deaths and serious traffic-related injuries — but it’s not yet clear how officials plan to accomplish that goal.
The Arlington County Board unanimously passed the “Vision Zero” resolution during its meeting Tuesday night that aims to bring the number of traffic casualties to zero. However, officials expect the details of the plan won’t be ready for another two years.
Now the county plans to gather public input on the proposal this fall, decide specific goals before January, and share a draft plan by next fall, per a county press release.
The final version of the Vision Zero plan isn’t likely to be completed before 2021.
County Board Chair Christian Dorsey noted that the number of accident-related deaths and injuries in Arlington remained steady for the past five years despite Arlington’s quickly growing population.
“But we can, and must, do better,” said Dorsey during the Tuesday meeting. “As our population continues to grow, and more cars, buses and bicycles share our streets, it is important that we work with the community toward the goal of completely eliminating deaths and serious injuries from traffic collisions.”
The resolution puts Arlington among network of governments, including neighboring jurisdictions like D.C., Alexandria and Montgomery County, which have passed similar “Vision Zero” promises to rethink traffic deaths as preventable, instead of inevitable.
However, advocates from New York to San Francisco have criticized officials for failing to live up to the goals in recent years. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also faced pushback for raising traffic fines and increasing the number of speed cameras, but doing little to prevent a rising tide of deadly collisions.
In Arlington, two people were killed last year in crashes, versus six in 2017, and one in 2016. This is the about on par with Alexandria (five fatalities in 2018, and four in 2017) but much lower than in D.C. where 34 people were killed in 2018 alone.
Almost 60 people were reported to have been seriously injured in crashes in Arlington last year — a number that’s remained relatively steady since 2013.
As a condition of the newly-approved resolution, Arlington will publish regular reports on traffic fatalities and injuries, as well as an annual update on overall progress.
Officials in Arlington have discussed a Vision Zero resolution for years. Former Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze promised to enact the pledge during his 2014 unsuccessful campaign for County Board.
This year, as the county updated the bicycle portion of Arlington’s Master Transportation Plan, officials said that they would put forth a formal Vision Zero proposal this summer.
Some took to social media to criticize the slow-moving process, including Chris Slatt, who chairs the Transportation Commission.
“After all this time I expected a plan, not a one-page resolution,” Slatt said.
So it's great that @ArlingtonVA just adopted a #VisionZero resolution, but I can't help but question…what took so long? Staff have been mulling this for like FIVE YEARS. After all this time I expected a plan, not a one-page resolution.
— Chris Slatt (@alongthepike) July 16, 2019
“For now, we celebrate and strategize,” replied Gillian Burgess, who chairs the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.
“We are making progress,” Burgess added. “This is a good step.”
File photo (top). Graphs via Arlington County.
Has the following happened to you?
You’re in a car, bus or on a bike, waiting at a traffic signal. The traffic light turns green, but a driver in front of you doesn’t budge. Other drivers honk, and you see the perpetrator hurriedly putting down a phone and mashing the gas pedal.
Anecdotally, it happened to one ARLnow employee every single day last week.
Needless to say, distracted driving (or distracted non-driving) is bad. It’s first and foremost incredibly dangerous to you and those around you. It is also infuriating, particularly at rush hour as those behind you are trying to get home and safely make it through short turn signals and green lights.
It sends a message: what’s taking place on my phone is more important than you, your time and your safety.
It is, however, not entirely illegal — Virginia’s existing texting-while-driving law applies to use of the phone in a moving vehicle, not when legally stopped. This year Virginia’s legislature failed to pass a more expansive bill, though it did pass a bill prohibiting phone use while driving through highway work zones.
We’re wondering: have you experienced what’s described above? And do you think it’s getting better or getting worse?
Allstate’s just-released 15th annual America’s Best Drivers Report ranks Arlington No. 168 out of 200 cities studied.
According to the insurance company, drivers in the county go an average of 7.4 years between car insurance claims (compared to a national average of 10.57 years) and have an average of 25.3 “hard-braking events” per 1,000 miles (compared to the national average of 19).
The good news: Arlington drivers are getting safer. The county’s 2019 ranking is an improvement over 2013, when it was ranked 10th worst in the country.
Arlington also ranks better than other nearby cities. Washington, D.C. ranks No. 199 and Baltimore is dead last at No. 200. Alexandria, meanwhile, slots in at No. 192.
In Alexandria, Route 1 (Richmond Highway) was said to be the most “risky road” to drive on. In D.C., I-295 was the riskiest road, according to Allstate’s data.
Top on the list this year: drivers in Brownsville, Texas ranked No. 1, going 14.9 years between crashes on average.
The video (below) was jarring: cars driving through muddy flood waters that nearly reached the tops of tires.
Even more jarring: this was happening along busy Columbia Pike, a route not noted for being flood-prone, during the evening rush hour.
The scene yesterday evening was captured on video by a passerby, showing floodwaters inundating a low-lying section of the Pike near S. Greenbrier Street. As commenters pointed out this morning, driving through flooded roads is a bad idea, but despite repeated reminders to “turn around, don’t drown,” drivers continue willfully operating their vehicles as if they were hovercraft.
(A spokesman with Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services tells ARLnow the department is still investigating the flooding and “looking into whether there were any construction-related obstructions in the storm sewer inlets.”)
Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage this morning offered the following tips for driving during heavy rain and potential flooding situations.
Residents are reminded to:
- Sign up for Arlington Alert to receive emergency notifications including severe weather alerts.
- Whenever possible, limit travel during times of severe weather.
- Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast.
- It is never safe to drive or walk into flood waters. If you see a flooded roadway, seek an alternative route.
- According to the National Weather Service, 6 inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away a small car, while 2 feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles. Play it safe, Turn Around Don’t Drown.
- If you see a hazard, report to the Emergency Communications Center at 703-558-2222 or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.
Those tips may come in handy tonight. A Flash Flood Watch is set to take effect at 2 p.m. From the National Weather Service:
…FLASH FLOOD WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 11 PM EDT THIS EVENING… * THUNDERSTORMS WITH HEAVY RAINFALL ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP ACROSS THE WATCH AREA THIS AFTERNOON AND LINGER INTO THE EVENING. LOCALIZED RAINFALL TOTALS OF SEVERAL INCHES ARE POSSIBLE. THIS COULD LEAD TO FLASH FLOODING, ESPECIALLY IN THE URBAN AREAS. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A FLASH FLOOD WATCH MEANS THAT CONDITIONS MAY DEVELOP THAT LEAD TO FLASH FLOODING. FLASH FLOODING IS A VERY DANGEROUS SITUATION. YOU SHOULD MONITOR LATER FORECASTS AND BE PREPARED TO TAKE ACTION SHOULD FLASH FLOOD WARNINGS BE ISSUED. &&
The video from last night’s flooding is below.
— Becky Haberacker (@haberackerb) June 17, 2019
Photo via Becky Haberacker/Twitter
Housing and the County Budget — A new Greater Greater Washington article explores ways to add new housing at a time when Arlington County is facing a serious budget gap. [GGW]
Trails Treacherous for Cyclists — Despite efforts to plow local trails, many stretches in Arlington were still icy or snow-covered yesterday. [Twitter]
Police Warn About Phone Scam — “The Arlington County Police Department is warning the public about a fundraising phone scam targeting County residents. Residents have contacted the police department after receiving unsolicited phone calls from individual(s) claiming to be with the Arlington County Police Department and requesting donations to benefit the disabled and underprivileged children.” [Arlington County]
Fraser Among Those Called By Scammers — Arlington resident and local media personality Sarah Fraser was among those to be called by the scammers posing as ACPD. [Twitter]
A Modest Proposal for Stop Signs — “Close observation of local driving practices confirms the view that stop signs have become irrelevant, since no one obeys them. The closest drivers come is to slow and then slide through the intersection. It would be a cost-saving measure if Arlington County were to remove all its stop signs and replace them with ‘Yield’ signs.” [InsideNova]
Va. 8th District Has Most Federal Workers — “The House member with the most federal workers in his or her district is Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, whose Virginia district includes 86,900 federal workers. (Among districts with no military bases, Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly’s neighboring Virginia district has the highest number of federal workers.)” [Pew Research h/t Patricia Sullivan]
Stuck School Bus in Maywood — “#ArlingtonVA school bus stuck this am on N Fillmore St & 23rd St. N 3 days *AFTER* the snow! This hill on Fillmore is NEVER timely plowed or cleared. Do not put children at risk! Can @ArlingtonVA please clear this street.” [Twitter]
A man in Army fatigues who was riding a motorized scooter down an alley in Pentagon City was nearly run into by an impatient driver.
The road rage incident happened Friday afternoon along the driveway between the Pentagon Row shopping center and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. An apartment resident witnessed it and managed to take video of the final seconds, as the soldier scooted just out of the way of the tailgating driver.
“Heard some honking outside my apartment and went over to my balcony that overlooks Pentagon Row, right next to the Pentagon City Mall parking garage,” the tipster said via email. “Saw a car right on the heels of a gentleman on a motorized scooter. Gentleman was wearing military fatigues. The military figure yelled ‘Stop!’ Car proceeds to hit scooter after the rider hopped off. Driver then continues on their way.”
No injuries were reported.