Twelve states joined Virginia, Maryland and the District last year in outlawing texting while driving. The latter two also have a ban on using hand-held devices while behind the wheel.
"We're at the point where the [Department of Transportation] was when they wanted people to buckle up," Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Thursday at the first anniversary of FocusDriven, the national campaign against distracted driving.
In the District, 11,868 tickets were issued for distracted driving in 2010, up 24 percent from the previous year. Officers in Fairfax County write more than 9,000 citations for failure to pay full time and attention, also up 24 percent from the previous year. In Arlington, more than a fifth of the citations for this offense were issued at a crash.
"I think the fact that 30 states passed [texting while driving] laws really indicates states have taken the leadership on this," LaHood said.
Failure to pay full time and attention ?-- a charge that includes texting, using a hand-held cell phone, changing the radio station, reading maps and performing a variety of other activities while behind the wheel -- was cited 248 times in Arlington and 12 in Prince William County in 2010. Many offenders are cited with the more expansive charge of reckless driving.
"It's become extremely commonplace for people to use their electronic devices and to be distracted while driving," Fairfax police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said. "There are a lot of demands on people. We are trying to increase our enforcement to keep up the pace."
Fairfax police partnered with federal authorities and AAA in mid-September to battle the growing problem of distracted driving, up 239 percent in the county since 2006.
In Maryland, drivers can be pulled over for text messaging behind the wheel. Drivers using cell phones can only be cited if they're already being pulled over for another offense. Police in Montgomery and Prince George's counties said Thursday they don't have statistics on the number of these types of citations.