The Virginia General Assembly in heavily considering banning the use of cellphones while driving. As distracted driving becomes an issue on the Commonwealth’s roads and highways, many citizens are calling for a change to the law that is quite slow, compared to the widespread practice of either texting or talking on the phone while driving.
Currently, in Virginia it is unlawful for drivers under the age of 18 and school bus drivers to talk on a cellphone while driving. Moreover, texting while driving is banned for all, making it a primary offense for motorists, and a secondary offense for those under the age of 18.
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 handheld cell phones while driving. Although no state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, 38 states, including D.C., ban all cell phone 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.
H.B. 2273, introduced by Delegate Christopher Collins (R-Winchester), and co-sponsored by Michael Webert (R-Fauquier) and Michael Mullin (D-Newport News), prohibits “any person from holding a handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle.”
The bill also expands exemptions under the law to include handheld personal communications devices that are being held and used “(i) as an amateur radio or a citizens band radio; or (ii) for official Department of Transportation or traffic incident management services.”
“In some respects, driving with a phone in your hand can be just as dangerous as driving with a .15 blood alcohol level,” Delegate Collins said in a report from NBC 12. “When this is something that law enforcement takes seriously and something the courts take seriously, people will change their behavior.”
The bill passed through the House of Delegates on Tuesday with a 69-27 vote.
An identical bill, S.B. 1341, patroned by State Senator Richard Stuart (R-Stafford), and co-sponsored by Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) and Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), passed through the state legislature’s upper chamber the same day with a 34-6 vote.
Both bills would make the penalty for a first offense a $125 fine, which rises to $250 for a second or subsequent violation.