Stafford Drivers – Beware of Major Change in Traffic Law

Stafford County just passed a new traffic ordinance that punishes drivers who do not devote “full time and attention” to operating their vehicle. A conviction could result in a fine up to $500.

MAJOR LEGAL CHANGE
The new ordinance (Stafford County Code Section 15-126) has simple language, but its impact will be far-reaching for drivers in Stafford County.

According to the Sheriff and Commonwealth’s Attorney, as reported by the Free Lance-Star, the point of the ordinance is to let deputies charge a lesser offense for minor accident cases, rather than the more serious reckless driving criminal statute.

While that discretion may be used in some cases, there are more issues involved with this new law.

The ordinance does not just cover accident cases. It makes it illegal for any driver to operate a motor vehicle “without giving their full time and attention to the operation of the motor vehicle.” That means any driver who takes their eyes off the road for even one second could potentially be charged under this ordinance. Some of the common everyday activities include; making a cell call, searching for a radio station, eating or drinking, or turning around to help your child, even if you are not endangering anyone or causing traffic issues.

Another concern lies in the reckless driving realm, where the Sheriff and the Commonwealth’s Attorney focus their comments. They seem to focus on giving deputies a more lenient charge to issue for minor accident cases. They talk about essentially going easier on drivers.

But the Sheriff and Commonwealth’s Attorney don’t discuss much about reckless driving law itself. A good number of reckless driving tickets are dismissed by the courts because the Commonwealth cannot prove the driver did anything wrong. One intention behind the ordinance is to plug that gap. In other words, the ordinance will likely result in more convictions in Stafford County.

The final issue that may arise with the new ordinance is fishing expeditions by the police. With this ordinance, they have wide latitude to make pre-textual traffic stops. For example, if an officer sees a driver look down, he could plausibly stop the vehicle with the reasonable suspicion that the driver is distracted by something in the vehicle. That can potentially be used by officers to stop vehicles to look for contraband or fish for DUI charges.

HIGH FINE ATTACHED
While a few other Virginia localities have similar ordinances, Stafford County’s new ordinance has one of the highest maximum fines at $500. This is double the fine for Virginia traffic infractions.
Fredericksburg’s full time and attention ordinance only has a $100 maximum fine, and several Northern Virginia localities with similar ordinances max out at $250.

Only time will tell exactly how this new ordinance will be used in Stafford County. I think it represents an expansion of the law that will end up convicting more drivers of traffic infractions, even in cases where the drivers did not actually create a safety risk.

Photo by: arewethereyet?

Andrew Flusche

My name is Andrew Flusche. I am a traffic and misdemeanor defense lawyer in Virginia. I limit my practice to traffic tickets and misdemeanor defense, so I know the ins and outs of these offenses. I literally wrote the book on reckless driving in Virginia which you can get on Amazon here or download for free here. I opened my practice in 2008 after earning my Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. Since then, I have earned over 600 5-star reviews from happy clients on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor offense in Virginia, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Your initial consultation is always free, and you'll talk directly with me about the details of your case.

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