The University of Richmond Police Department will crack down on drivers violating Virginia’s hands-free cell phone law and other traffic offenses during an increased enforcement period on campus from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17, according to a Nov. 3 email.
The effort, which was preceded by a “warning phase” from Nov. 3 to Nov. 10, includes a greater police presence on campus roads and an increase in ticketing, Officer Renee Walcott and Sgt. Randy Baran said.
In addition to enforcing the hands-free cell phone law, police will be looking for drivers speeding or failing to obey stop signs and pedestrian crossings, Walcott and Baran said.
“The short and simple of it is that you might see more blue lights around campus that week,” Walcott said.
The hands-free law, which outlaws holding a cellphone or other personal communication device while driving, went into effect Jan. 1, 2021. A first violation is punishable by a $125 fine, and a second offense is punishable by $250; breaking the law in a work zone is also punishable by a $250 fine, according to DRIVE SMART Virginia.
The Nov. 3 email from URPD Capt. Alfred Johnson came after several members of the community complained about traffic offenses on campus.
“We had an increase in citizen complaints around the community saying that people are driving fast,” Walcott said. “They’re not paying attention to speed, not looking at the road and being on their phones. Thirty mph around here looks fast, even when the speed limit is 25.”
Speeding violations and failure to obey stop signs have been the most common traffic offenses aside from parking tickets this semester, Walcott and Baran said. There have also been more accidents on campus, Walcott said.
Student drivers receive the most speeding violations, Walcott and Baran said.
“We occasionally stop faculty and staff, but the degree of speeding is not the same,” Walcott said.
Campus traffic violations are state offenses that are recorded in Henrico County or Richmond courts depending on where the driver is cited, Walcott said. Violations go on driving records regardless of the driver’s residence and can result in increased insurance premiums.
“This is a campus, yes, you might be on private property, but you can’t break the law because you’re on private property,” Walcott said. “UR might have its little bubble, but you are still subject to state law.”
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In addition to educating drivers about the hands-free law, a major focus of the traffic enforcement initiative is crosswalk safety.
“Drivers not stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks is another one of the biggest complaints from faculty, staff and students,” Walcott said. “Pedestrians on their phones who don’t look up before crossing the road can also be a safety issue.”
Major areas of concern are the crosswalk under the Modlin Center for the Arts tower because the pillars create a blind spot; the crosswalk in front of Lora Robins Court because it is difficult to see people coming down the stairs; and crosswalks located in the T.C. Williams School of Law lot, C70, and the B1 and B2 parking lots, campus police said.
“You take your life in your hands when you’re trusting other people to follow the law,” Walcott said.
Walcott and Baran encouraged community members to be cautious while using crosswalks.
Police reported five hit-and-run offenses from Sept. 18 to Nov. 7, according to URPD’s crime log.
In addition to the hit-and-run offenses there have been two car accidents on campus this year, including a car that flipped over in front of Boatwright Memorial Library, Walcott said. No one was hurt in the accident, campus police said.
“We typically don’t have a lot of accidents,” Walcott said. “There may be fender benders here and there … People hit a parked car, damage to property because someone hits a parked car and leaves not knowing they hit it. We typically don’t have a lot of just vehicle accidents.”
The traffic enforcement initiative email received an overwhelmingly positive response from community members, several of whom replied with other ideas for increasing traffic safety, Walcott said.
“After we sent the email, thank-you messages have been flooding in,” Baran said.“The community is embracing it.” .
Walcott said that since the email went out, she has not seen anyone with a phone in their hands while driving, and she hopes that the traffic enforcement initiative will promote safer roads around campus.
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