Cracking down on texting while driving
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.)
SB 1160 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, SB 1238, would make texting while driving punishable as reckless driving. Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, has a similar proposal, SB 1222.
All three Senate bills will be heard in Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday [Feb. 4]. If approved by the committee, they will go to the full Senate.
The seven House bills have been folded into one – HB 1907, proposed by Delegate Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge.
HB 1907 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 HB 1907. 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.
The status of anti-texting bills
Here are the bills that would increase the penalties for texting while driving:
In the House, the main bill is HB 1907, proposed by Delegate Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge. The full House of Delegates is scheduled to vote on the proposal. Six bills have been incorporated into this legislation. They are:
HB 1357, by Delegate Thomas Rust, R-Herndon
HB 1360, by Delegate Benjamin Cline, R-Amherst
HB 1495, by Delegate Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg
HB 1540, by Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Annandale
HB 1848, by Delegate G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond
HB 1883, by Delegate David Bulova, D-Fairfax
In the Senate, three bills are before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. They are SB 1160 and SB 1238, by Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria; and SB 1222, by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg.
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.
The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.
Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.
But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.
That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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CalendarThe Under the Stars Family Film Series will present “Despicable Me 2” at 8:30 p.m. at Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, 1440 N. Laburnum Ave. Bring a blanket or chair. Concessions… Full text