New Bill in Virginia Seeks to Outlaw Handheld Phone Use at the Wheel
A renewed effort is underway to ban handheld phones at the wheel in Virginia in a move that could cut injuries and deaths on the state’s highways. Delegate Jeff Bourne proposed legislation that will prohibit all handheld phone use while driving in the Commonwealth in an effort to address the issue of distracted driving.
Although a similar proposal failed in 2019, despite the backing of Governor Ralph Northam, the new Democrat majority in both houses in Richmond means Bourne’s proposal has a greater chance of success.
Texting and driving is already illegal in Virginia. Critics of the state’s distracted driving law say it does not go far enough and is difficult to enforce. House Bill 874 would prohibit drivers from holding a cellphone while driving.
How Would Outlawing Handheld Phones at the Wheel Change Virginia Law?
The current distracted driving law in Virginia prohibits motorists from reading or composing messages on electronic devices while driving. However, it is legal for a motorist to hold a smartphone, tablet, or another device in their hand unless they are in a work zone.
House Bill 874 would ban holding a handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle. This means someone could not make or accept a call on a cellphone while driving unless they are using a hands-free function. The bill would penalize drivers $125 for a first offense and $250 for any subsequent offense. This law does still allow drivers to use their phones when lawfully parked or stopped or when reporting an emergency.
Would a Handheld Phone Ban Curb Distracted Driving at the Wheel?
Supporters of this ban believe stopping people from holding their phones will reduce distracted driving in Virginia and save lives. WHSV Channel 3 spoke to Meredith Spies, a supporter of the new bill.
Spies said her mother was killed last year when a dump truck driver looked down at his phone to text a friend and crashed into her mother’s car. The dump truck driver went partially off the road after he overcorrected and crossed into oncoming traffic. The trucker was later charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to media reports. Although the trucker was in breach of Virginia’s texting prohibition and a federal ban on handheld phone use by commercial vehicle drivers, this new bill in Virginia would tighten up the law.
In the most recent data, distracted driving caused 24,350 crashes, states the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The 2018 statistic was a 6.8 percent reduction on the 2017 figure. Distracted driving caused 18.5 percent of all traffic deaths in Virginia. Although fewer distracted drivers caused crashes in 2018 than in the previous year, drivers who were texting or not paying attention were responsible for 126 deaths and 13,733 injuries on the highways of the Commonwealth in 2018. In 41 fatal crashes, a distracted driver was speeding; in 34 cases, a distracted driver had been drinking alcohol.
Although the recent cell phone revolution has fueled the epidemic of distracted driving, electronic devices are just one of the three top reasons for distractions in Virginia.
Speak with a Virginia Distracted Driving Accident Lawyer
At Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers, our attorneys see far too many horrendous injuries caused by distracted drivers. We help families to file wrongful death cases after a loved one is lost due to a distracted driver in addition to helping injured motorists file civil claims.
Any legislation to tighten up Virginia’s flawed texting and driving law is welcome news. Our firm is aware that distracted driving is a disproportionally large problem among younger drivers who have grown up with a cellphone in one hand.
Additionally, Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers runs a Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship program. We offer three scholarships of $2,000 to graduating seniors in public or private schools in the Hampton Roads and Eastern Shore area and a national scholarship open to seniors from across the country. Entrants submit projects that tackle solutions to distracted driving.
If you sustained losses in a car accident, contact our firm today.