General Assembly
5:26 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

Distracted Driving Legislation

Anne Marie Morgan reports from Richmond.

The passage of Virginia’s transportation-funding bill was not the only change of heart that took place in the General Assembly this session.  Another was tackling a growing traffic-safety hazard that did not even exist a generation ago—and making it a primary offense. It not only toughens current state penalties against texting while driving, but it targets similar communications.

For years, lawmakers tried to make it a primary offense to use a mobile phone while driving. But they were blocked by others who argued that reckless driving laws can cover infractions or by those who did not want police to peer into cars and invade privacy. But the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Rich Anderson, says the dangers posed by drivers who are texting are too great.

"Because of the impaired driving that results from texting, it has the same effect as if you%u2019re severely intoxicated%u2014well beyond the legal range of intoxication. So therefore it does, in fact, affect other people, up to and including death. And so for that reason, we needed to address it," said Anderson.

Under the bill, police can pull over and charge a driver who is seen texting.  Anderson says it imposes a $250 fine for a first offense, and $500 for subsequent ones. “However, if you are doing something in conjunction with that that meets the definition of reckless driving, then the minimum fine is $500," he says.

The bill also makes it unlawful to read emails or text messages OR to manually enter multiple letters or text.  That means no e-mailing, tweeting, or posting on Facebook, either.