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Published On: Thu, Mar 15th, 2018

Virginia Senate Approves Distracted Driving Bill

In a 29-11 vote, the Virginia Senate has approved a distracted driving bill that would prohibit the use of handheld use of cell phone while driving.

The approval was unexpected, but the bill must still pass through the House and be signed by the governor to become law.

If passed, the law would affect drivers in many ways. Drivers would no longer be allowed to hold a cell phone to their ears while driving. Voice activation services, like Siri or Google Assistant, may still be used to place calls via speakerphone.

Streaming music and GPS features could only be used if the phone is mounted to the dashboard or windshield. Also, drivers may no longer browse the Internet or use Facebook while driving on the interstate.

photo Oregon Department of Transportation

Under current laws, the police can only pull over drivers for texting while driving. Law enforcement has found the law difficult to enforce and has mostly abandoned ticketing drivers for it.

The Senate proposed bill prohibits the use of cell phones unless it is hands-free or voice-activated use.

Breaking the law would result in a $125 fine as well as a traffic violation. Subsequent offenses would result in a fine of $250 each time.

There are a few exceptions to the rule: if drivers are reporting or responding to an emergency; those in Department of Transportation vehicles; drivers in stopped or parked cars; and those using amateur or CB radio.

The law would also permit the use of dashboard touchscreens in new model vehicles that connect to phones wirelessly.

In total, 11 Republicans voted against the bill.

The Senate-amended version of the bill will now go back to the House. The House may insist on HB 181, its own version.

The House version says any use of a cellphone that “substantially diverts the driver’s attention from the operation of the motor vehicle” would make the driver guilty of distracted driving and subjected to a fine of up to $500.

“In the US, teenagers and young adults under the age of 20 are most likely to drive while distracted,” Ankin Law Office. “Texting is the most common form of distraction and in 2015, 42% of teens reported texting while driving.”

Senator Mark Obenshain says if the law passes, it will be the most violated law in the state. He believes the law is too invasive, as drivers can be ticketed just for looking at the time on their phone.

Senator Ben Chafin shares the same sentiment. “This subjects drivers to unwanted, unneeded, expensive law enforcement treatment. It’s too much … way over the top and way too much. I agree we have a problem, but this is hitting the problem with a sledgehammer.”

Others have argued that the law would be too onerous for people who cannot afford Bluetooth handsets, new phones or phone mounts.

If the Senate version of the bill passes, the state of Virginia would join Delaware, Maryland, Washington and West Virginia as “hands-free” states where drivers can be fined for simply holding phones while driving.

Over the last six years, Virginia has had nearly 950 distracted driving-related crashes. In 2016, nearly one-quarter of all fatal crashes involved distracted driving.

Author: Jacob Maslow

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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