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New laws ban texting, fund roads

Published 10:15pm Friday, June 28, 2013

New state laws taking effect Monday mostly affect transportation, including a 20-percent increase in the sales tax that will be devoted to roads and a tougher ban on text-messaging while driving.

The sales tax increase, which will be steeper in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia than in the rest of the state, is expected to bring in more than $1.4 billion annually throughout the state by the fifth year. About $220 million of that would be for Hampton Roads alone, with a further $350 million for Northern Virginia.

“It will be a dedicated funding stream for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, which will help us address the uniqueness of our transportation needs as it compares to the rest of the state,” said Delegate Chris Jones, a Suffolk resident who helped craft the historic funding package that marked the first major overhaul of transportation funding in the state in 27 years.

The additional money generated from the new 6-percent sales tax, as compared to the former 5 percent, will be dedicated to transportation-related infrastructure improvements, Jones said.

Another improvement to the safety of the roads will come in the form of sharper repercussions for texting while driving.

The new law passed in this year’s General Assembly session makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement officers do not need another reason to stop a motorist who is texting before they can cite them for the infraction.

The new law also hefts the penalties for getting caught texting, giving a first offense a fine of $125. A second or subsequent occurrence would set the offender back $250.

All of Suffolk’s representatives in both houses and both sides of the aisle voted for the bill.

“Now it’s a primary offense, which is the way it should be,” Jones said. “It’s distracted driving, and it’s become a real issue in dealing with traffic safety.”

The change allows police to “proactively enforce” the law, he added.

The law doesn’t apply to motorists who are lawfully parked or stopped, or to law enforcement officers and other emergency vehicle operators. It does apply to typing and reading both text messages and email.

The new law also says anyone convicted of reckless driving who was typing or reading a text or email when the offense occurred will have a mandatory minimum fine of $250 for the reckless driving charge.

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