February 18, 2020
Virginia poised to outlaw driving with phone in hand
Second and subsequent violations would result in $250 fines.
By Andrew Ringle
We can all feel a part of saving dozens or hundreds of lives over the next few years, including the one out of every six traffic fatalities that is a person walking or biking.
— Brantley Tyndall, director of outreach for Bike Walk RVA
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — The state Senate voted Tuesday in favor of a bill that would prohibit holding a phone while driving a motor vehicle on Virginia roadways and which implements a penalty for the traffic violation.
House Bill 874 will head to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, who has voiced support for prohibiting the use of handheld cellphones while driving. The measure, sponsored by Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond), would go into effect at the start of 2021.
“I’m happy that HB874 passed 29-9 in the Senate,” Sen Bourne said in an email. “HB874 will make our roadways safer for all Virginians by prohibiting drivers from holding a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle.”
The House of Delegates approved the bill Feb. 5 with a 72-24 vote after incorporating four bills with similar proposals. Violations of the measures in HB 874 would result in a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses. If a violation occurs in a highway work zone, there would be a mandatory fee of $250.
Del. Bourne said the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, of which he is a member, supports making Virginia roadways safer without risking “disparate application of law.”
“We were happy to work with Drive Smart Virginia to improve the legislation to ensure that the new law is applied fairly and equitably,” he said.
Hands-free driving garners bicameral and bipartisan support, according to Brantley Tyndall, director of outreach for Bike Walk RVA. He said the defeat of previous bills with similar measures in past years was deflating, but that Del. Bourne’s latest proposal reworked the language to make it successful.
“Bike Walk RVA is happy to see leadership from our area, namely chief patron Delegate Jeff Bourne, choosing to lead this issue on the House side with his bill HB 874,” Mr. Tyndall said in an email.
He called Del. Bourne’s bill a “commonsense safety measure” and said he was glad to see support for the bill from old and new leadership in the General Assembly.
“We can all feel a part of saving dozens or hundreds of lives over the next few years, including the one out of every six traffic fatalities that is a person walking or biking,” Mr. Tyndall said.
Current law prohibits reading or typing messages on a personal communications device while driving. However, holding such a device is legal, except while driving in a work zone.
The bill would not apply to emergency vehicle drivers, such as police officers and firefighters, nor employees of the Department of Transportation while performing official duties. It would also exempt drivers who are parked legally or at a full stop.
Last fall, the Richmond City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to ban using mobile devices while driving. With a signature from Gov. Northam, HB 874 would make the same policy statewide law.
Senate Bill 932 proposed adding school zones to the list of areas where holding a phone while driving is prohibited, which is more limited than HB 874’s proposal. SB 932 failed to advance from a House subcommittee on Monday.
Richmond Police Chief Will Smith said during a press conference in January that his department supports HB 874 and that anyone with children shouldn’t be surprised by the proposal.
“One of the very first things that we all talk about with our kids is, ‘Make sure that you leave your phone out of your hand and don’t text, don’t call until you get to your destination’,” Chief Smith said. “Yet we, as an adult society, tend not to obey our own advice.”
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martinkus · February 20, 2020 at 1:39 pm
It is about time Virginia! Way too many "important people" paying more attention to their digital devices than to the road and their surroundings!
LOUISE RUSNAK · February 19, 2020 at 12:48 pm
There should also be a law enforced to stop people from walking across the streets in and out of the crosswalks with ear plugs and cell phone in hand and not paying attention to anything around them. They just walk out into traffic with out looking to even see if there is a car coming.. I have almost hit a person who walked out between cars with cell phone in hand and not looking. You don't see them until you get right on them when they step out. People need to put down the phones and look around these days!!
AngryBob · February 19, 2020 at 9:11 am
This will be selectively enforced. And if you mouth off to a cop, you'll get one of these tickets even if you don't have a phone. It happens in New York already. It'll happen here.
I don't know about you, but this isn't going to change anything I do behind the wheel. Just now it's more attention I have to devote to watching for cops.
We need to get rid of these politicians.
Better solution: Require the driving test to be done while using a phone. If you can't do it, you can't drive. There will always be distractions. Don't dumb down the task - raise the expectations.
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