Tougher Texting-While-Driving Law Moves Forward in Virginia Legislature

Jail time no longer a maximum penalty under proposed law.

Jail time is no longer on the table as a maximum penalty as state lawmakers look to tighten Virginia's texting-while-driving law.

The Old Dominion is in line to increase the fines for such offenses, though, and to give law enforcement the power to stop drivers solely for texting. Del. Tom Rust, as well as Del. Ken Plum both supported the bill. 

House Bill 1907, which passed this week on a 92-4 vote, increases the fine upon conviction to $250 — up from $20 — for the first texting-while-driving offense and $500 for each subsequent conviction. The bill makes texting while driving an aggravating circumstance to reckless driving, and so anyone convicted such would face a mandatory minimum $500 penalty if they were texting while they were driving recklessly.

Further, texting while driving would constitute a primary offense, which means police can stop someone just on the suspicion that a driver's eyes and thumbs aren't where they should be.

"This is an important bill that will have a real impact on the health and safety of our children and citizens," Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34), who represents part of eastern Loudoun, said in a statement. "We need to continue to publicize this issue through public service announcements and education efforts as well as community efforts. We all know of dangerous and even deadly situations that have occurred from this increasing problem."

The bill was sponsored by Del. Richard Anderson, a Woodbridge Republican. Through the legislative process, it includes six other texting bills that had been proposed this year.

One, co-patroned by Del. Scott Surovell, a Mount Vernon Democrat, would have raised the offense of texting while driving to a Class 1 misdemeanor — putting it on par with reckless driving with penalties upon conviction of up to one year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.

Surovell represented the family of a college student who was killed in 2011 by a man who authorities say was texting immediately before his vehicle struck the student on Leesburg Pike. The man was charged with reckless driving, but a Fairfax County judge threw that out, blaming the General Assembly for failing to distinguish texting from reckless driving.

The Senate already has passed a bill similar to Anderson's. 

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Barbara Glakas February 12, 2013 at 02:02 AM
This is a step in the right direction, but the bill still has loopholes that weaken it. This proposed law says you cannot punch LETTERS into a communication device for the purpose of texting, or read a text, but it does not preclude the driver from punching in NUMBERS or from reading a caller ID number. Therefore, if a police officer pulls a driver over for supposedly punching in letters, the driver can simply say they were not punching in letters – they were only punching in numbers. The onus would be on the police officer to prove otherwise and it would difficult to prove in court. We need a law that says drivers cannot use any kind of communication device while the car is moving, unless it is an emergency. We already have a law like that in Virginia for teenagers, now it needs to be extended to adults. Secondly, increasing the violation to reckless offence is fine, but the weakness in that aspect of the proposed law is that we have to wait until after the accident happens, and THEN the driver gets a reckless charge. That, in my mind, is another weakness in the bill because we should be trying to prevent accidents from happening in the first place.


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