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)
The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.
The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)
The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.
For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.
The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.
The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.
Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.
Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.
‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise
Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.
They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.
As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.
Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.
There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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