Texting while driving law hard to enforce in Virginia

(WJLA) - The Commonwealth of Virginia is the latest state to crack down on text messaging while driving, a habit that makes it 23 times more likely that you'll crash, a Virginia Tech study says.

However, loopholes in that law, which went into effect in earlier this year, is stifling the amount of tickets being handed out.

Texting while driving is a primary offense in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, meaning that authorities can pull drivers over if they're caught with their phones in their hand. It's for good reason; officials say that more than 100,000 accidents per year can be attributed to texting.

But in the first four months of enforcement, Virginia State Police handed out just 328 tickets. Police in Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun and Fauquier counties handed out 17, five, two and one respectively.

That's because law enforcement officers are finding it extremely challenging to actually catch offenders.

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

Holmes says that once he spots a potential texter, he'll drive around the car to visually confirm that the driver is reading or sending a text message or email. Confirmation is extremely important, he says; under the law, a driver is allowed to both dial and use the phone's GPS function.

"Even if I witness the behavior, they'll say that's not what they're doing," Holmes said.

There's also confusion over whether or not accessing social media applications like Facebook and Twitter fall under the realm of illegal. Virginia's Association of Chiefs of Police say that it's not clear whether or not those actions break the law.

The association is now working with the state's Attorney General to clarify that law.

In the meantime, Holmes has a tip for drivers - just avoid all activities that take your eyes off the road.