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New law cracks down on texting while driving

Published 10:12pm Wednesday, March 27, 2013

By Sam Isaacs

Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia drivers should get used to hitting “send” on their phones before they get behind the wheel of their vehicle. Beginning July 1, a new state law will crack down on texting while driving.

Gov. Bob McDonnell approved the law Monday but recommended that the General Assembly reduce the proposed fines for violators.

During its recent session, the General Assembly passed two bills to change texting while driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense. That means police could pull a driver over if they see the motorist texting. Currently, you can be ticketed for texting only if you’ve been stopped for some other infraction.

The legislation proposed increasing the fine from $20 to $250 for a first offense and from $50 to $500 for a second offense. However, McDonnell recommended that the penalty be $125 for a first office and $250 for a repeat violation.

The assembly will consider that recommendation when it reconvenes for a one-day session on April 3.

During their regular session, lawmakers targeted texting while driving by passing Senate Bill 1222, sponsored by Sens. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, and George Barker, D-Alexandria, and House Bill 1907, sponsored by Delegate Richard Anderson, R-Woodbridge.

“The governor believes that texting while driving is a dangerous activity and motorists should refrain from this, and all, distractions while behind the wheel,” according to a statement issued Monday by McDonnell’s office.

“The governor supports making texting while driving a primary offense, but has proposed to reduce the fines for convictions to bring them more in line with the penalties for comparable violations such as DUI and reckless driving. Additionally, the governor’s amendments will require that the Department of Criminal Justice Services make training available to state and local law enforcement agencies for enforcement of this new law.”

Barker has introduced bills targeting cellphone use while driving during the past five legislative sessions. In an interview, he addressed three key enforcement issues related to the new law.

What activities does the law prohibit?

According to Barker, the law covers only entering text into the phone to send a message or email or to use a search engine.

The law does not prohibit scrolling through songs on iTunes or even playing a game while driving. It’s still OK to use a GPS navigation unit or consult Siri, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant.

Barker said the legislation focused on a limited range of activities because a bill banning all phone use may have been too extreme to pass.

How will the law be enforced?

Police officers could pull a car over if they see or suspect that the driver is texting. The officer then may ask to see the driver’s phone to check if any texts have been sent within the previous couple of minutes. Motorists can choose to show their phone to the officer, or they can refuse and fight the ticket in court.

Barker said that with no visual evidence of texting, the case would come down to the officer’s word versus the driver’s.

Can a driver text at a red light?

Technically yes, but Barker said it would be risky: An officer may be patrolling and catch the driver as soon as the light turns green, so it is better not to chance it.

  • Norseman

    Yes it will be abused by the police that want to get a look inside your car. Any law as fuzzy as this one is has to be abused, I would hate to be a teenage driver after this is in effect. I agree texting is never to be done in the car but this gives the officer waaaaay to much power to stop you. I guess next is a 966 number to report someone next to you texting. I support very large penalties for texting when you cause a problem and education targeted to the younger generation (more of what we are starting to see now). How about a dampening field device for anyone under 65 that scrambles texts within 2 ft of the car(just an idea).

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    The police officer can pull you over if he “thinks” you are texting, and ask to see your phone. O’boy! I cee a lot of unnecessary police stops. What if you are dialing a number? This could get very ugly.

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  • happyGoLucky

    Phones should be banned on a road of vehicular traffic period. If you have an emergency pull over and use it. If you have an emergency text, then pull over or at least get an I-phone and use siri talk-to-text and keep your eyes on the road.

    The morning commute almost everyone is on the phone. Just who are these people talking to at 7am?????

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  • OceanaJones

    Sheesh! Put the phone down already! Do you really need to be THAT connected? Are you really that insecure?

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