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New Law Makes Distracted Driving a Primary Offense in Virginia

Thursday, April 04, 2013 - 01:01 PM

(photo by mrjasonweaver via flickr)

Virginia lawmakers approved bipartisan legislation that makes texting while driving a primary offense, and significantly raises the fines.

State legislators passed amendments to the bill that were proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, including one increasing the fine for texting while driving from $20 to $125 dollars for a first offense and $250 dollars for every subsequent violation.

That's less than the original legislation, which pegged those fines twice as high.

Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Prince William Co.) says it puts texting on the same level as other impaired forms of driving.

"That aligns driving while intoxicated and driving while texting pretty closely," says Anderson.

Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) says he has been trying to get a bill passed on this topic for a number of years, after students from Centreville High School brought the issue to his attention.

"I’m very pleased, because this is an extraordinarily dangerous activity," Barker says. "The accident rate is 23 times the rate for people that are texting compared to people that aren’t, which is a phenomenal differential. It clearly will save lives."

Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) says the law addresses more than just texting at the wheel.

"You can be convicted not only if you are texting, but also if you are reading a text message, if you are sending an email or if you are reading an email," Surovell says.

The bill does not address other potential distractions, like voice-controlled messaging. There also remains some ambiguity about other activites not expressly banned in the legislation, like the use of GPS on a smartphone.

"Depending on how things work, there may need to be tweaks in the future," Barker says. "I think what we’ve done is adopted a very clear policy here, and if we need to fix the language to clarify that, we can obviously do that in the future."

The amended bill now heads to the governor's desk for his signature. He is expected to sign it.

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