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Virginia’s Failed Distracted Driving Bill

In 2018, a Distracted Driving Bill was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates. It had real teeth (in terms of penalties). But, the bill was not approved in both houses of the Virginia legislature.Virginia's Failed Distracted Driving Bill - Altizer Law, P.C.

Distracted driving, particularly use of a cell phone while driving, kills – every day. Yet many Virginians do not recognize the danger of distracted driving. The National Safety Council (NSC) reported that a public opinion poll indicated that 80 percent of drivers across the nation “incorrectly believe that hands-free devices are safer than using a handheld phone.”

The NSC categorizes distracted driving as “impaired driving,” along with drunk, drugged and drowsy driving. Yet many Virginia drivers will not accept that all cell phone use while driving is dangerous and often deadly.

The NSC has pointed out that the notion of multi-tasking is a big fat myth. Yet most people believe that they are good at multi-tasking. We should take note of the NSC’s reminder that “The brain quickly toggles between tasks – but it can’t do two things at the same time. The activity in the area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by up to 1/3 when listening to talking on a phone.”

What is Virginia’s law about cell phone use while driving?

Currently, any driver under 18 years old is banned from using cell phones or any other personal communication devices while drivingTexting is banned for all drivers. In Virginia, it is considered a primary offense, which means police can pull you over if they suspect you of texting while driving.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the first distracted driving laws in the Commonwealth wee passed in 2009. These laws made it illegal to text while driving. This law made texting while driving a “secondary enforcement offense”. This means that police officers needed another reason, to pull drivers over and give them a ticket for texting. There is also a ban on all cell phone use for school bus drivers and for novice drivers. In 2013, texting while driving became a “primary offense” (no other reason is necessary to ticket offenders). Fines for violations of these laws were considered significantly more severe.

The text messaging ban, which applies to all drivers, prohibits composing, sending or reading text messages. In July 2013, this became a primary violation.

Compared to other U.S. States, Virginia’s penalties for distracted driving are among the mildest. The harshest penalties are in Alaska, Utah, Maine, Wisconsin, and New York. In Alaska, for example, the penalty for all drivers for distracted driving is a $10,000 fine and 1 year in prison. Virginia’s penalty is a $20 fine and applies to all drivers.

The 2018 Distracted Driving Bill

Early this year, the Hands Free Driving Bill was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates. Its authors pointed out that “we are averaging nine deaths per day in the United States from distracted driving.” When passed in the House, the bill was sent to the Virginia Senate. The bill was amended in several ways. Probably the most damaging amendment was a Senate requirement that the provisions of the bill be funded prior to implementation. The House would not agree to this modification of the bill.

Some believe that the original bill was weakened by its anomalous wording. The original bill said, that any use of a cell phone that “substantially diverts the driver’s attention from the operation of the motor vehicle is guilty of distracted driving.” The bill called for a fine of a fine of up to $500. It also called for a minimum fine of $250 if the offense occurs in a construction zone.

Other distracted driving bills have been introduced this year. To date, none have passed or been enacted.

Virginia’s Failed Distracted Driving Bill is a reminder that we currently have some of the weakest penalties of any state in the nation for distracted driving. It highlights the difficulty our legislators have in defining distracted driving and establishing the limits of cell phone use while driving. Those who understand the danger of distracted driving (regardless of the nature of the distraction) eagerly await a stronger law this year.

Call Altizer Law, P.C.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, call Bettina Altizer and her experienced and effective team. They bring together more than 25 years of experience and commitment to fight aggressively and relentlessly for you until you see justice done and you receive the largest appropriate financial compensation for your hurts and harms. When you have been injured by a distracted driver, you need an attorney known to be fighter. That attorney is Bettina Altizer.

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