Numbers support texting bill

Published 11:16 pm Friday, February 8, 2013

By the time the Virginia General Assembly adjourns this year, there’s a good chance that texting while driving will have become a potentially far more expensive habit than it currently is.

Bills have advanced from both the House of Delegates and the Senate that would make the activity a primary traffic offense, meaning that police can pull over drivers who appear to be using their mobile phones to send text messages, to surf the web or for most purposes other than making phone calls or using their GPS. Ten different bills were introduced this session to crack down on the dangerous activity, and they came from representatives of both political parties.

The House bills were combined into HB 1907, sponsored by Delegate Rich Anders, a Woodbridge Republican. The Senate bill, SB 1222, was sponsored by Williamsburg Republican Sen. Tommy Norment. SB 1222 and HB 1907 would make texting while driving a primary offense and raise the fine to $200 for a first violation and $500 for a second. Texting while driving also would be punishable as reckless driving.

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Virginia’s current law regarding texting while driving has always been something of a half measure. Police can ticket drivers for doing it, but it’s a secondary offense, meaning that they must have some other lawful reason to stop the driver in the first place. As anyone who travels far along Virginia highways can attest, there are plenty of drivers engaged in texting at 60 mph who need to be stopped long before they have broken some other law that could ultimately result in them causing a tragic accident.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2011, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. A 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that sending text messages while driving made the risk of a crash 23 times more likely than non-distracted driving and that texting drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds over a six-second interval, the equivalent of traveling the length of a football field at 55 mph.

The statistics cry out for legislative intervention, and the General Assembly did well to heed those cries this year. Legislators and the governor should do everything within their power to get this law on the books and give police the ability to enforce it.