There’s always next year

Published 10:59 pm Friday, March 1, 2019

There was surprise and dismay among safe driving advocates in Richmond recently as a bill many saw as common-sense legislation — that appeared destined to become law — failed.

HB 1811 and SB 1341 were worded slightly differently, but the end result was the same. Drivers would have been prohibited from holding their cellphones while driving.

This would have prohibited texting and emailing, which is currently against the law, as well as talking on the phone while holding it or using apps like Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. Any and all uses of cellphones that did not utilize hands-free technology or were not for reporting an emergency would be outlawed.

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Similar legislation has been proven to help reduce distracted driving fatalities in other states. Since an almost identically worded law took effect in Georgia, traffic fatalities have dropped about 14 percent.

Both bills passed both houses, but a conference committee of House and Senate members that convened to resolve the differences significantly amended the bill, causing it to fail when it went back through the House of Delegates. The committee’s recommendation was that drivers wouldn’t be able to “view, read or enter data,” so they would still be able to talk without hands-free technology.

Some legislators saw it as a sabotage. Safe-driving advocates were also incredibly disappointed.

“We had been working very hard to make sure the bills advanced,” said Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia.

The organization’s website notes that using a handheld device while driving is a leading cause of distraction-related crashes, more than other distractions like, perhaps, eating while driving or reaching for something in the backseat. It also says nine people are killed, and more than 1,000 injured, every single day by distracted driving.

This is important safety legislation for our roads. We hope the bill gets another shot next year with wording that can be amenable to all parties.