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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Crime Stoppers’ Crime of the Week: Sept. 18, 2017


Crime Stoppers is seeking information about a shooting in Richmond that resulted in an injured child and the murder of an adult.

At approximately 10:21 p.m., Sept. 9, Richmond Police were called to the 3200 block of 5th Avenue for a report of a person shot. They quickly located two victims suffering from gunshot wounds, a 57-year-old male and a 9-year-old female. > Read more.

Business in brief


Commonwealth Senior Living at the West End, located at 2400 Gaskins Rd., will hold their grand opening on Oct. 3 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The community recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation which included the addition of a new memory care neighborhood, new resident suites, an expanded dining room, and brand-new courtyards and additional outdoor spaces. Commonwealth Senior Living associates will be on site to provide tours of the newly renovated community. > Read more.

Wegmans to sponsor Turkey Trot 10K


Wegmans Food Markets Inc. will become title sponsor of the Richmond Road Runners Club’s annual Turkey Trot 10K, a Thanksgiving Day tradition for many Richmond area runners.

Wegmans and RRRC have signed a three-year agreement whereby the race, beginning in November 2017, will be known as the Wegmans Turkey Trot 10K. RRRC will continue to manage race operations. > Read more.

Publix to open at Virginia Center Marketplace Oct. 11


Publix will open its next Henrico location at 10150 Brook Road in the Virginia Center Marketplace shopping center in Glen Allen Oct. 11 at 7 a.m. The store will host a grand opening ceremony at that time.

The location will be the Florida chain's fifth in Henrico, joining those already open at Nuckols Place and The Shoppes at Crossridge in Glen Allen, The Shops at White Oak Village in Eastern Henrico and John Rolfe Commons in the Far West End. > Read more.

Statewide tax amnesty period underway


Delinquent individual and business taxpayers in Virginia can pay back taxes with no penalties and half the interest from now through Nov. 14, as part of the 2017 Virginia Tax Amnesty Program, which began Sept. 13.

Approved by the 2017 General Assembly, the program assumes collection of $89.5 million for the general fund to support education, health, and public safety, as well as to provide a cash reserve. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

September 2017
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The Innsbrook Executives’ Breakfast Series continues at 7:15 a.m. at the Richmond Marriott Short Pump, 4240 Dominion Blvd. Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas will give a “State of the County” address. Cost is $25 to $30. The series continues on the third Thursday of every month. The meeting is open to all – you don’t have to be an executive or work in Innsbrook to attend. For details, visit http://www.innsbrook.com. Full text

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