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Texting-while-driving bills clear Assembly committee

RICHMOND

Bills supporting tougher texting-while-driving penalties continue to advance in the General Assembly.

Legislation cleared the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday. It would make texting or emailing while operating a vehicle a reckless offense in certain instances, give police more latitude to stop suspected offenders and impose fines of up to $500.

A similar measure is pending in the House of Delegates.

That progress has been years in the making.

"It's heading in the right direction," said Sen. George Barker, a Fairfax County Democrat who's carried texting bills for several years. "This is substantially further than we've ever gotten before."

Barker's texting bills were rolled into Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment's bill (SB1222) and passed by the committee on a 9-6 vote.

Barker's main 2012 texting bill, which cleared the Senate before falling in a House subcommittee, didn't have SB1222's teeth. It made texting a primary offense but didn't boost fines.

This year, similar legislation from Del. Rich Anderson, R-Prince William County, was sent to the House Courts of Justice Committee - not the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee that killed past texting proposals.

The full House approved Anderson's bill (HB1907) on a preliminary vote Monday. A final vote is expected today.

Both measures would allow police to stop a person solely for suspected texting while increasing fines to $250 for a first offense and $500 for subsequent citations. They would also mandate a minimum $500 fine for people convicted of reckless driving who violated the texting law at the same time.

A texting prohibition was added to Virginia law in 2009 - Del. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, carried the legislation - but safe driving advocates have long complained that it isn't strong enough.

Current law makes texting and driving a secondary offense, meaning police can't stop motorists for it but can cite violators if they are pulled over for another infraction. Penalties are a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent violations.

Before the bill advanced, Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford County, voiced concerns about putting police in a position to make judgment calls when an "officer cannot distinguish" whether a driver is "picking up a device" to text or dial a phone number.

Norment, R-James City County, defended the combined legislation as appropriate, given how critical a problem texting while driving is, but said he expects the Senate vote to advance it will be "fairly tight."

Barker said texting is an "extraordinarily dangerous offense," citing statistics indicating that drivers typing on a handheld device are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.

Pilot writer Bill Sizemore contributed to this article.

Julian Walker, 804-697-1564, julian.walker@pilotonline.com

Posted to: News State Government Traffic - Transportation Virginia

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No nevermind!

"--empowering police to make judgment calls when an “officer cannot distinguish” whether a driver is “picking up a device” to text or dial a phone number." (BTW, when is the last time anyone "dialed" a number?)

In the words of a former Sec'y of State, "What difference does it make, anyway?" when either one is distracting the driver's attention from his/her primary task, namely keeping a multi-K pound vehicle safely in one lane and/or off someone else's bumper at 60+ MPH?
I say they are BOTH worthy of as large a penalty as possible!

Dialing for dollars is trying to find me

When was the last time anyone reviewed footage from a "video tape" since it is all recorded to a hard drive today?

Last night

Right after I finished listening to a Beach Boys album on my R-R tape teck.

DECK

Not "teck", DECK!

Texting or dialing

The law should be amended to read "entering information into an electronic keyboard", or words to that effect. The officer wouldn't have to make a distinction as to dialing, texting, emailing, etc. This would also cover entering an address into a GPS device, or using your phone to browse the internet for information. All are distraction. Several states have hands free only laws now, and Virginia should follow that lead.

And even hands-free.....

And even hands-free has been found to be seriously distracting because even though you're not using your hands your mind is still somewhere else.

TRUE BUT...

This is true it is also true for conversation with a passenger, getting directions from a GPS device such as looking at screen, changing the radio station, singing with the radio, etc. I see using handsfree devices as the same as talking to your passenger which is legal and has occurred from the inception of the automobile. The challenge is to mitigate as much risk as possible and doing away with conversation whether with a person next to you or on the phone is manageable provided it requires no visual and manual input. However, use of a device that requires manual input and taking eyes off road to do so is dangerous and should be heavily fined!

The camels nose in the tent

This is why we can't get a good anti-texting law passed.

As soon as anything is proposed people seek to expand it to cover voice calls and even entering the number for a call. While people will accept a ban on texting, they will not give up their voice phones, so what you accomplish by trying to expand the bill to other distractions is to get it killed.

PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME

Can someone please tell me why having a hands-free conversation on a cell phone is more distracting than talking to passengers, or having a back seat full of unruly kids?

Agree on Hands free

Talking to a passenger or on hands free reqires the same amount of attention or distraction, if you will. This isn't an attempt to minimize the distractiopns of texting, dialing, etc. I'm for a ban on texting or dialing while driving. However, it is just common sense that converstaions, listening to a GPS for directions, singing along with a song on the radio all require some devided attention between driving and the activity engaged in. To outlaw handfree conversations is a slippery slope that brings into question othert activities. Some just want to outlaw smart phones all together regardless of activity. Texting and dialing require both manual (Hands off wheel) and visual (eyes off road) inputs/attention which should be banned!

There'll still be texting

People are still going to text while driving because they know the chances of getting caught are quite small. If after an accident the people involved have to surrender their electronic devices so the police can check them for recent texting or other activity and then increase the fine to wreckless driving, that might have some added effect.

The only way it is going to stop is when text signal blockers are put in vehicles at the time of inspection and/or by the manufacturers. It sounds draconian, but with the number of accidents being caused by texting, it is the only sure way to stop it.

Sounds good, but--

It blocks anyone else in the car from talking/texting. Unfortunate, but the passenger(s) couldn't be getting directions or making emergency calls while the car is moving. A case of the baby lying in the back yard soaked in soapy water.

Too bad. I remember when

Too bad. I remember when you had to pull over and use a pay phone...we all survived.

well????

tell me what drivers *and* passengers did in vehicles before there were these bothersome devices?

Please pass this

You can instantly tell when someone in the car in front of you is texting because it's clear that they are distracted. I've seen people blow through intersections when the light is red - all due to texting. I've seen people go at red lights as well - totally absorbed in their phones.

In Maryland if you are using your phone AT ALL while driving it's a $1000 fine. Trust me, one violation and you'll never do it again. Time has come for us to crack down on this dangerous and selfish activity.

This law should have been

This law should have been implemented when car phones were made if that is the purpose.

I don't think anyone at the

I don't think anyone at the time had the psychic ability to see how much it would affect driving.

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