Texting and driving law difficult to enforce

(WJLA) - Behind the wheel of an AT&T simulator, these teens quickly learned that texting and driving can be dangerous.

"I crashed a lot of times," says 16-year-old Rahwa Contreras.

"It really opened my eyes that this is something serious," adds 17-year-old Jamiea Jackson.

There’s a misconception that texting and driving is mostly popular with teens, but AT&T found out that half of adult commuters are doing it as well.

That’s right – 49-percent of all commuters admit to texting and driving, despite it being tied to over 100,000 accidents every year.

"I really don't know how to stop it, it's like a compulsion really," admits Alexandria resident Megan Butterworth.

Texting and driving is illegal in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, as well as in 39 other states. Virginia made it a primary offense in July.

In the first four months of enforcement, Virginia State Police handed out 328 tickets. Arlington County only issued 17. The City of Alexandria, five. Loudoun County, two; and Fauquier County – just one ticket!

"I would have thought I would see more people pulled over for enforcement, but it doesn't seem to be happening," says Megan Butterworth."

Officers tell us that is because enforcing this particular law is challenging.

"It has to be where I can actually see the screen -- I don't just pull someone over off speculation," says Virginia State Police Trooper Kurt Holmes.

Holmes says once he spots a potential texter, he’ll drive around the car to visually confirm the driver is reading or sending a text or email. Confirmation is important, because under the law, a driver is allowed to dial a number or use the phone’s GPS.

"Even if I witness the behavior, they'll say, 'no that's not what I was doing, I was in fact looking for an address or trying to call someone,'" he explains.

Social media is another issue altogether.

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police say it isn’t clear whether using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram while driving is considered illegal activity. The Association is working with the State’s Attorney General right now to make a clarification.

But Trooper Holmes says a good rule of thumb is to avoid all activities that take your eyes off the road.