Delegate’s call: Hang up and drive

When you’re driving and you suddenly hear your phone ring, your first reaction is to answer it, right? Satisfying that urge would be illegal under legislation before the Virginia General Assembly.

Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, has proposed a bill to prohibit any driving while using a cell phone – even if the device is hands-free.

“Drivers’ use of cell phones while driving has significantly increased, and our laws need to reflect road safety on this issue – and they currently do not,” Watts said.

On Thursday morning, a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee considered Watts’ proposal, House Bill 1630. On a voice vote, the subcommittee recommended that no action be taken on the measure.

Under existing state law, Virginians may not send or read text messages while they drive. (A first offense can draw a $20 fine, and repeat offenses, $50.) Motorists under 18 must refrain from using cells phones at all while driving.

Both of those violations are secondary offenses: You can get ticketed only if police have pulled you over for another reason, such as speeding or running a red light.
HB 1630 would prohibit all drivers, not just young ones, from using their cell phones.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications cellular telephone or other wireless telecommunications device to … initiate or answer any call or talk on the device, regardless of whether it is configured for hands-free operation,” the proposal says.

Violations still would be a secondary offense. But a violation would be punished as a Class 3 misdemeanor – meaning a fine of up to $500.

Watts says research shows how dangerous it is when drivers are distracted by their cell phones.

“In research, it’s comparable to drunk driving in that it impairs your focus,” she said.

Another proposal before the General Assembly would help legislators get a better handle on that research.

House Joint Resolution 621, sponsored by Delegate Joe May, R-Leesburg, would ask the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to study how to discourage drivers from using their cell phones.

The institute would “research strategies for getting drivers to adhere to the laws prohibiting certain uses of cell phones in motor vehicles,” says the resolution, which has been assigned to the House Rules Committee.

“Such research may include a look at primary versus secondary enforcement of cell phone laws and an analysis of any data available on the enforcement of the current laws.”

The General Assembly is considering one other piece of legislation on the issue: Senate Bill 1047, sponsored by Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria. It would make cell phone use by drivers under 18 a primary offense. The Senate Transportation Committee is considering Barker’s bill.

Across the United States, many officials are concerned about drivers using cell phones. At least eight states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have outlawed hand-held cell phone use while driving; 30 other states, D.C. and Guam prohibit texting while driving.

The jury is still out on how effective such laws are.

In a 2010 study, the Highway Loss Data Institute, a nonprofit research group funded by the insurance industry, found no reduction in car crashes after cell phone bans were enacted. The study examined insurance claims for crash damages in four states. It said accident rates didn’t drop after jurisdictions banned phoning while driving.

But other studies blame at least some car crashes on the use of cell phones. The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis said cell phones contribute to about 6 percent of traffic accidents, including 2,600 deaths, each year.

Watts believes that a law against phoning while driving would enhance traffic safety – just like the law requiring drivers to wear seat belts.

“People started using seat belts more and more, and it became a habit,” Watts said. “People realized what a difference it made in safety.”

Her proposed cell phone ban is co-sponsored by four other Democrats legislators – all from Northern Virginia: Delegates Charniele Herring of Alexandria and Ken Plum of Reston, and Sens. Janet Howell of Reston and Mary Margaret Whipple of Arlington.

Herring said that even if the bill fails, it will raise awareness.

“Hopefully it will make a difference to our safety – less reckless driving incidents,” she said.

HB 1630 would not apply to emergency operators, parked or stopped cars, the use of a device to report an emergency, GPS systems, digital dispatch systems or two-way citizens band radios.

Current Virginia Cell Phone Laws
• Drivers with provisional licenses (under age 18) are prohibited from using cell phones while driving. (Secondary enforcement)
• All drivers are banned from texting while driving. (Secondary enforcement)
• School bus drivers are prohibited from text-messaging and using cell phones while driving. (Primary enforcement)
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Earnhardt gives Redskins a ride


Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88, stopped at Richmond Raceway Aug. 8 in advance of the track’s NASCAR weekend in September. He was joined by five players from the Washington Redskins, who were in town for the team's training camp, which concluded Aug. 14. The day in Richmond gave Earnhardt and the Redskins players an opportunity to see how the athletes compete in their respective sports. > Read more.

READ Center a finalist for $25k grant


The READ Center is a top-200 cause finalist in State Farm’s Neighborhood Assist program, making it eligible to earn a $25,000 grant to support adult literacy in the Richmond region. The 40 organizations from across the nation with the most votes will win grants.

The READ Center, based in Henrico, provides classroom instruction and one-to-one tutoring to adults with very low literacy. > Read more.

Henrico County property transactions, Aug. 1-6


A sample of property transactions during this period appear below:

1847 New Market Road – $137,000, 1,659 SF (built in 1935), from Philip J. Whiteway, III and Donna H. Whiteway et. al to David T. and Katherine W. Benckert.
6304 Trailing Ridge Court – $165,000, 1,246 SF (built in 1999), from Carol A. Allen to Sandra R. Jefferson.
1722 Devers Road – $169,950, 816 SF (built in 1949), from Heather K. Brunner to Kasey A. Sheridan and Jason Talbot.
3201 Purvis Road – $175,000, 2,051 SF (built in 1997), from Geneva Moore LLC to Jessica I. Bolling. > Read more.

Glen Allen wins 2 of first 3 games at 14U Babe Ruth World Series


The host Glen Allen 14-year-old all-star baseball team won two of its first three games in pool play at the 14-year-old Babe Ruth World Series, which is it hosting at RF&P Stadium in Glen Allen. The team beat the Midwest Plains champions, 9-4, in its first game Aug. 10, then topped the Southwest champions, 7-3, Aug. 11 before dropping a 5-4 result to the Ohio Valley champions. > Read more.

Filipino Festival draws thousands


Thousands of attendees visited the annual Filipino Festival at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Lakeside Aug. 11-12, enjoying native foods, entertainment, clothing and commemorative items and much more. > Read more.

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August 2017
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West Broad Village’s Rock & Roll Summer outdoor concert series continues at “The Pad,” adjacent to Aloft Hotel at 3939 Duckling Dr., from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mashup Band will perform 80s, 90s and 00s mash-ups. The concert is free and open to the public. Several parking decks feature free parking. The series continues every other Friday through August. For details, visit http://www.shopwestbroadvillage.com or www.facebook.com/WestBroadVillageShopping. Full text

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