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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Henrico School Board selects redistricting Option E


JUNE 23, 10:30 A.M. – The Henrico County School Board Thursday concluded its latest redistricting process by selecting a plan for middle school redistricting that will impact a number of students in the western and northern parts of the county, as well as a few in Eastern Henrico.

The process sought to reduce overcrowding at Hungary Creek Middle School, create room at Wilder Middle School for a gifted academy and address the poverty level disparity among some middle schools. It will impact about 775 students, according to school system officials. > Read more.

‘Senior Cool Care’ program to help older adults in Metro Richmond


For the 27th year, Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging is helping older adults combat summer heat through a program now called "Senior Cool Care" (formerly the Fan Care program) that provides fan and air conditioning units for eligible senior citizens.

The program is available to low-income older adults age 60 and older who reside in the City of Richmond and the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan. > Read more.

Cyclist killed in crash was 52-year-old man

Henrico Police have named the victim killed June 21 when the bicycle he was riding collided with a truck on Mechanicsville Turnpike near I-64 in Eastern Henrico.

Fifty-two year-old Ray J. Freeman, of Richmond, died at a local hospital after being struck. The truck that hit him was traveling south on Mechanicsville Turnpike. > Read more.

Henrico man sentenced to 10 years in prison for dealing heroin

A Henrico man was sentenced June 20 to 10 years in prison for distribution of heroin.

Arlando Harris, 35, pleaded guilty on Dec. 29, 2016. According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Henrico Police executed a search warrant at Harris' mother's residence in Henrico on March 16, 2016. > Read more.

Glen Allen HS student earns playwriting residency


A play written by a Glen Allen High School junior was selected, along with seven others, to be performed professionally this summer through a nationally acclaimed Virginia high school playwriting program.

47B, a play written by 16-year-old Glen Allen High school student Dominique Dowling, was chosen by New Voices for the Theater, a playwriting competition sponsored by the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, from a pool of more than 150 plays by high school students in the state. > Read more.

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June 2017
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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will celebrate Father’s Day with special events June 17-18. Enjoy laid-back crafts and activities in the Children’s Garden on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Sunday, enjoy live music from the Jangling Reinharts from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and a boat display, courtesy of Southeastern Marine. Food will be available for purchase. Garden admission also includes the exhibits Butterflies LIVE! and Wild Art: A Journey Off-Canvas. Admission is $8 to $13. For details, visit http://www.lewisginter.org. Full text

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