Texting while driving bill goes to Governor

Legislation cracking down on texting while driving is only Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature away from become law after passing the Senate on Tuesday.

texting while driving

Update #2 — February 20, 2013; 1:46 PM

By Sam Isaacs | Capital News Service
Legislation cracking down on texting while driving is only Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature away from become law after passing the Senate on Tuesday.

House Bill 1907, proposed by Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Woodbridge), would change texting while driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense. (Currently, you can be charged with texting while driving only if you have been stopped for some other violation.)

Moreover, the bill, which passed the Senate on a 28-12 vote, would drastically increase the fines for texting while driving. The penalty would jump from $20 to $250 for a first offense and $50 to $500 for repeat violations.

Six other bills were incorporated into Anderson’s. HB1907 includes proposals by Delegate Ben Cline (R-Amherst) and Delegate David Bulova (D-Fairfax) to make texting while driving punishable as reckless driving.

Anderson said a hometown tragedy prompted him to introduce the bill.
“I’m so glad that it passed. It was my signature piece of legislature this session,” he said.

“I found out while having coffee with a neighbor last spring that they had lost their brother to a texting driver, so I decided something had to be done.”

Anderson said he has received hundreds of emails this session in favor of the bill, and only one that opposed it.

The House of Delegates had approved HB1907 by a vote of 92-4 on Feb. 5th.
The bill does not prevent drivers from making cellphone calls or using GPS systems. It applies only when a motorist is using a “handheld personal communications device” to “manually enter multiple letters or text” or “read any email or text message.”

If McDonnell signs HB1907, it would take effect July 1.

Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, is sponsoring companion legislation to Anderson’s – Senate Bill 1222. The bill is awaiting final approval by the House.

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Update #1 — February 11, 2013; 7:52 AM

By Sam Isaacs | Capital News Service

The day after bills to crack down on texting while driving passed in both the House and Senate, a bipartisan coalition of legislators came together to urge their colleagues to complete the process of turning the measures into law.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has been a part of this group. We’ve never made it this far with these bills before,” Delegate Ben Cline, R-Amherst, said at a press conference Wednesday.

Cline introduced one of 10 bills this legislative session to impose stiffer penalties for texting while driving. The bills were filed by both Republicans and Democrats.

The House bills were combined into HB1907, sponsored by Delegate Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge. The House passed that bill, 94-4, on Tuesday.

Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, filed an identical proposal in the upper chamber – Senate Bill 1222. It cleared the Senate on a 24-15 vote Tuesday.

Bills involving texting while driving have been unsuccessful in recent years; four failed last year alone. Norment, the Senate majority leader, said his support may have helped with this year’s success.

“When I heard what these senators were doing, I thought a bipartisan approach might help to move it along,” he said.

Under existing law in Virginia, texting while driving is a secondary offense (meaning you can get cited only if you have been pulled over for some other violation). The current penalties are $20 for a first offense and $50 for a second or subsequent offense.

SB1222 and HB1907 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.

Some opponents have disparaged the legislation, claiming it would prevent drivers from making cellphone calls or using GPS systems. Such claims are untrue, Anderson said.

“It prohibits anything text-related while driving,” he said. “You can still use your phone to make calls or use GPS.”

Several accidents involving texting while driving have brought the issue to the General Assembly’s attention. One happened in Anderson’s district, which includes part of Prince William County.

“A police officer was helping a man load a mattress back onto his truck after it had fallen off. They were hit by a driver that had been texting. The man was killed, and the officer was permanently disabled,” Anderson said.

Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, also highlighted the dangers of texting while driving.

“Studies show the probability of getting in an accident while texting is not double — it is 23 times greater,” Barker said. “That is the equivalent to driving with a .08 blood alcohol content.”

Delegate Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, said the new laws would make people aware of the risks associated with texting while driving.

“This is one of the most important bills we will pass this year,” she said. “We need to push the knowledge of this on students.”

The House now will consider SB1222, and the Senate will do the same with HB1907. If passed, they could be enacted in time for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.

— ∮∮∮ —

Original — February 04, 2013

By Sam Isaacs | Capital News Service

Members of the House and Senate are optimistic that at least some of the 10 bills to crack down on texting while driving will make it past the legislative deadline called crossover day.

At the start of the session, three such bills were filed in the Senate bills and seven in the House. If a bill has not made it out of the House or Senate by Tuesday, it is left on table for the year. Beginning Wednesday, the House can consider only bills approved by the Senate, and the Senate can consider only legislation passed by the House.

Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, is the chief patron of two of the Senate bills. He is hopeful the legislation will make it past crossover.

“We have been trying this for a few years and have been gradually making progress. I think the odds look good this year,” Barker said.

Last year, his bill to increase the penalties for texting while driving passed the Senate but died in the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.

This year, Barker is sponsoring Senate Bill 1160, which would increase the fine for texting while driving to $200 for a first offense and $500 dollars for a second offense. (The existing penalties are $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offense. They were set in 2009 when the General Assembly passed the current law against texting while driving.)

SB1160 also would make texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, it is a secondary offense, meaning drivers can be charged only if they have been stopped for another violation.

Barker’s other bill, SB1238, would make texting while driving punishable as reckless driving. Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, has a similar proposal, SB1222.

All three Senate bills will be heard in Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday, February 4th. If approved by the committee, they will go to the full Senate.

The seven House bills have been folded into one – HB1907, proposed by Delegate Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge.

HB1907 mirrors Barker’s bill: It would make texting while driving a primary offense and drastically increase the fines for an infraction. Anderson said this could be the year such a bill passes.

“It has a strong support, and a lot of people are committed to it. In prior years, there wasn’t as much focus on how much of a real danger this is,” he said.

Delegate David Bulova, D-Fairfax, said a recent event had a strong influence on the General Assembly’s attitude toward texting – a “tragedy to the highest extreme.”

In May 2011, Kyle Rowley, a college student, was killed by man presumed to be texting while driving in Fairfax County. When the case went to trial this past September, the judged dropped the reckless driving charge against the driver.

The reason: The penalty for texting while driving is $20, and the offense counts as a minor traffic infraction. The judge ruled that it could not count as reckless driving.

“The situation was shocking to the General Assembly. We were appalled,” Bulova said. “You could see why the judge would rule that way. He wasn’t wrong; we were.”

On Friday, the House Courts of Justice Committee unanimously approved HB1907. It is now before the full House of Delegates.

Bulova hopes the bipartisan support in the House and Senate will make 2013 the year Virginia targets texting while driving.

“We want to send a strong message that it is the driver’s primary responsibility to pay attention and monitor themselves while they drive,” he said.

photo by mrJasonWeaver

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