Time for a Texting and Driving Ban in VA?

Proposed bill would elevate penalty for texting while driving to include possible jail time and up to $2,500 fine.

A bill introduced in the Virginia General Assembly would make texting while driving a more serious offense — and the penalties upon conviction would be up to one year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.

It's not the first time such a measure has been proposed. But advocates say a recent court ruling that differentiates texting while driving from reckless driving should give them the support they need to get the bill through the General Assembly this year.

"There's usually about 10 texting bills a year, and they usually all get killed," said state Del. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon. "This year, something's going to change."

The House bill would essentially elevate texting while driving to a primary offense, which means police could stop someone solely for doing it. The new law, too, would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Currently, texting while driving is a secondary offense — officers can only charge someone if they've stopped that person for another reason. And it's punishable by only a $20 fine for the first offense.

Surovell, the new bill's chief co-patron in the House of Delegates, is the attorney who represented the family of Kyle Rowley, a college student who was killed in 2011. Authorities say Jason Gage of Alexandria opened a text message within seconds of the crash that killed Rowley on Leesburg Pike. Gage was charged with reckless driving.

But state law says reckless driving must be proven by showing driving behavior. Fairfax County Judge Thomas E. Gallahue found that not enough evidence was presented to convict Gage of the charge.

The judge laid blame at the state legislature, which proponents hope will give the new bill the push it needs to make it through the General Assembly.

The bill was filed by Del. Ben Cline, an Amherst Republican and chairman of the Conservative Caucus. Surovell, a member of the Progressive Caucus, agreed that in a year that's likely to be marked by partisan fights over Medicaid expansion and perhaps changes to state gun laws, the texting-while-driving bill could enjoy bipartisan support.

The pair announced their intention to work together on the bill last month.

"It's time to do something about it," Surovell told Arlington Patch, noting the countless times he sees people staring down at their phones while he's driving to Richmond. "It's a growing problem."

State Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, said the legislature should have time to deal with the matter in its whirlwind 46-day session.

"If you look over the years at bills that have been streamlined or fast-tracked… We do react very well to a crisis," Hope said.

Because the proposed more stringent penalties for texting while driving include potential jail time, the matter has budget implications, he said.

Do you think texting while driving should be a serious offense? Tell us in the comments.



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John Smith January 11, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Should be primary offense with stiff penalties.
Jim Hubbard January 11, 2013 at 02:27 PM
Food for thought: In the United Kingdom using a handheld device, like a cellphone, brings a mandatory fine (60 pounds) and three penalty points on your license. It could mean disqualification from driving and a thousand pound fine. Studies show that using a handheld device is the functional equivalent of drunk driving (you are that distracted). Why limit Virginia's prohibition to texting?
Enrique A. Caballero January 11, 2013 at 02:56 PM
It is very dangerous to text and drive as equal as a drunk driving situation. If it is not made a serious offense people won' t get it unfortunately.
John Nunyobiz January 11, 2013 at 03:50 PM
My pessimistic side and a historical perspective tell me that this will not pass because there has not been enough public uproar yet. Even though common sense dictates that texting while driving can be deadly, and there has already been cases of death and injury behind the practice, politicians will not act on this until there is a public uproar which usually comes about after some horrific incident(s).
Frank Sagstetter January 11, 2013 at 04:14 PM
It's high time for the public to demand their representatives to support such a bill in the General Assembly and insist on stiff consequences to all those that violate such a law. Now's the time to get involved and let's not lose another life.
The Convict January 11, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Texting while driving should be a primary offense that carries a fine with points. Heck, talking on the cell phone without using a hands free set should also result in a fine with points.
Ken Fredgren January 11, 2013 at 04:47 PM
It is a serious offense to the driver him/herself and to all around him/her, so let's codify it.
Skip Endale January 11, 2013 at 05:10 PM
texting and driving is indeed a very dangerous practice but keeping a dog on your lap can reduce the risks to a minimum: dogs can assist with navigation and upon failure to do so, provide protective insulation at time of impact. pls consult with your local breeder size of the K9, intelligence, and additional buffering factors (length of fur etc)
Virginia Harlow January 11, 2013 at 05:23 PM
I no longer trust legislators to write clear concise laws. It can hardly be considered a serious crime to check out an incoming text message while stopped at light when that text is telling you how to get where you are going. The more vague laws they write, the more folk they can call criminals and selectively prosecute. Is anyone watching the wording and care with which these statutes are written to protect the innocent?
Ana Ham January 15, 2013 at 05:09 AM
Who cares what the UK does. High fine for texting and for not using hands free.


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