Governor Ralph Northam (D) announced today that he is amending a bill to prohibit drivers from holding a communications device in highway work zones to apply the measure statewide, in any situation outside of a work zone. The expansion of this hands-free legislation would place Virginia in a category of less than 20 states that have similar laws.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that as of April 2018, 16 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Although no state bans all mobile phone use for all drivers, 38 states, including D.C., ban all use by novice or teen drivers, and 21 states along with D.C. prohibit any cell phone use for school bus drivers. Text messaging bans are applied to drivers in 47 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

S.B. 1768, introduced by State Senator Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg), would prohibit drivers from holding a cell phone or any other handheld personal communications device in a highway work zone, with exceptions for those driving “emergency vehicles.” The bill provides that a violation is punishable by a mandatory fine of $250.

Currently, Virginia drivers are only prohibited from reading emails or text messages on a device and manually entering letters or text in the device, with the same exceptions.

However, Governor Northam, being prodded by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and other advocacy groups, is working to place a full statewide ban on holding a cell phone while driving.

“The time has come for the Commonwealth to implement an effective and fair law to combat distracted driving,” said Northam in a press release. “Too many families have lost loved ones as a result of a driver paying more attention to their phone than to their surroundings. This bill, as amended, will be a significant step forward in promoting traffic safety across the Commonwealth.”