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Stafford adds distracted driving ordinance

Stafford County made a small change to a driving ordinance this week, one that closes a gap in distracted driving cases.

The change doesn’t focus on texting drivers, which recently became a state primary offense. But this new measure looks primarily on other forms of distracted driving that lead to crashes.

The new ordinance, approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, focuses on improper driving that causes an accident.

Other jurisdictions, including Fredericksburg and Fairfax, use the improper driving ordinance.

Stafford Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen told board members that in the past, crashes caused by someone eating a sandwich, playing with a radio or similar distractions resulted in the person being charged with reckless driving, a serious charge that can carry a yearlong jail sentence.

Many of those accidents do not merit a reckless driving charge, said Olson and Sheriff Charles Jett.

But deputies haven’t had an alternative charge to issue in such cases, according to Olsen and Jett.

Usually, though, the judge in such cases reduces the charge to improper driving, a lesser offense.

The new ordinance cuts out that gap and will allow deputies to charge distracted drivers with improper driving, which will carry a maximum $500 fine.

The charge now is more in line with similar infractions, such as following too closely and failing to yield the right of way, said Jett.

Deputies haven’t yet started using the new ordinance, he said, adding that they first need training on how to handle it. They should start using the new ordinance in about two weeks.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

Staff Reporter Katie Thisdell contributed to this report