Study shows decrease
in distracted driving on Beltway

There has been a decline during the past year in the number of drivers using their cellphones on the Capital Beltway, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The contractor building the new high-occupancy toll lanes on the Beltway, Transurban-Fluor, and AAA Mid-Atlantic conducted the survey for the past three years as part of the “Orange Cones. No Phones.” campaign. The public awareness campaign is aimed at discouraging distracted driving in construction zones.

This year’s survey shows the number of people reporting distracted driving declined by one-third. About 33 percent of drivers surveyed in 2010 said they talked, texted or checked e-mail while driving on the Beltway. In the 2011 survey, that number was 22 percent.

County, schools again face
tough budget decisions

Fairfax County likely is facing another year of lean budgets and tough decisions, the heads of the county government and school system said.

County Executive Anthony H. Griffin and schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale said they hope to be able to resume spending in areas they have had to cut back on in recent years but noted that doing so likely would mean continuing to cut other parts of the budget.

Dale will present his proposed budget in January; Griffin in February.

County budget planners are projecting a 2.8 percent increase in revenue over the current fiscal year, if the real estate tax rate remains the same. This would represent a substantial percentage increase when compared to the past few years, amounting to $131 million in additional revenue, Griffin said.

County staff are anticipating increased costs for health insurance and retirement benefits and that interest rates will begin to rise. Griffin said he also is hoping to provide a 5 percent increase in funding to Fairfax County public schools and to give county employees a 3 percent pay increase.

In all, this budget picture adds up to a $114 million shortfall that Griffin is working to balance with cuts to county agency budgets, fee increases and the use of reserve funding.

SoberRide offers free, safe transportation for holidays

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program is operating its annual SoberRide program every day between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. from Dec. 16 through New Year’s Eve. Residents celebrating with alcohol during that period may call the toll-free SoberRide phone number 800-200-TAXI and receive a no-cost (up to $30 fare) safe way home. AT&T wireless users can dial #TAXI for the service.

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve often is one of the deadliest times of year on roadways in the nation because of the amount of alcohol consumed during holiday celebrations, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

— Fairfax County Times