Blue lights aren’t the only flashy things on the Fairfax County Police Department’s newest patrol cruiser, but if you are texting or drinking while driving, you’ll see that they flash, too.
That’s the message behind the department’s newest weapon against drivers who are distracted, intoxicated or fail to move over for emergency vehicles: a 2013 Ford Taurus completely wrapped in conspicuous safety messages that will patrol countywide looking for violators.
“We are doing what private industry has always done,” said Fairfax County Police Captain Ed O’Carroll. “We are marketing our message. But make no mistake, this cruiser is fully functional and it will be out looking for unsafe drivers.”
The car’s messages, such as “One text or call could wreck it all” and “Drive sober or get pulled over,” are hard to miss as they are plastered all over the patrol car in large vibrantly colored letters. Police say it cost about $4,000 to cover the car with the logos and slogans. The decorations were funded by Transurban, the company that manages the I-495 express lanes. The Fairfax Law Enforcement Foundation will also help to maintain the unique vehicle, which will be displayed at local schools, malls and other venues throughout the county when it is not on the streets patrolling.
“There are also four scannable QR codes on the car that provide specific information about each offense when scanned with a smart phone,” said O’Carroll. “Many messages on the car are also written in Spanish as well as English.”
Police unveiled the patrol car in Centreville on Feb. 21.
“The advent of warmer spring weather unfortunately tends to coincide with dangerous driving decisions,” he said. “We want to remind people that texting, and drinking while diving are serious crimes that cost lives.”
According to police statistics, more than 13,500 distracted drivers in Fairfax County were cited for failing to give “full time and attention” to their driving in 2013. That’s an increase from 12,434 in 2012. There were also nearly 3,000 drivers arrested for driving under the influence in Fairfax County in 2013 and nearly 600 accidents in which alcohol was listed as a factor. “Summonses for texting also more than doubled in 2013 from 2012,” O’Carroll said.
Under a new Virginia law, it is now a primary offense to text while driving. For the first offense, there is a fine of $125. For second and subsequent offenses the fine doubles to $250. The law applies to the operator of a passenger vehicle in motion, and exempts law enforcement and other first responders. DWI fines and penalties vary on several determining factors, but there is a minimum fine of $250 for first-time offenders. Driver’s licenses can also be suspended for one year and jail time of up to 10 days can also potentially be mandated under certain conditions for a first offense.