On February 13th, the Virginia House of Representatives passed House Bill 181, a new bill cracking down on distracted driving. Now awaiting vote in the Senate, this bill states any use of a cellphone that “substantially diverts the driver’s attention from the operation of the motor vehicle is guilty of distracted driving.” Distracted driving would become a primary offense, which means officers can pull a driver over for cellphone use while driving, and it comes with a fine of as much as $500.
Currently in Virginia it is illegal to text or email and drive, however, this is a secondary offense and does not cover the vast majority of other activities one can use a phone for. HB 181 is trying to rectify that. In the past six years, 1,380 Virginians have been killed in alcohol-related crashes and 949 in distracted driving-related incidents. Nearly a quarter of all fatal crashes in 2016 involved distracted driving, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The law is a step in the right direction but Virginia still has a ways to go. Our neighboring states, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. are all “hands free” states, meaning a driver may receive a fine simply for holding a cell phone while driving. Once at the forefront of distracted driving laws, Virginia has not kept up with the technology. Cell phone use is rampant in drivers, look out at any stoplight and every driver around you will have their head in their phones. As stated in a previous post about distracted driving, cell phone use involves all three types of distractions. Crashes involving cell phone use are completely avoidable if the incentive is there. HB 181 is working towards safer Virginia roads.
However, some are worried that this bill could be used to target certain groups, and thus the Senate will have some trouble debating the wording of the bill and its necessity. Some Senate members believe the is unnecessary as offenders could be prosecuted under the law that mandates drivers “pay full time and attention” to the road. Some wonder if this is necessary with driverless cars on the horizon.
We believe that HB 181 is a necessity and is a positive move for Virginia’s roadways. With the rampant use of cell phones while driving and the increasing evidence that cell phone use is causing more accidents on the road daily, we think this preventative law will start to heal our roads and increase driver awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
A graduate of George Washington University of National Law Center, Thomas J. Curcio is an author, speaker, and personal injury attorney. He has been named one of DC Best Lawyers Personal Injury Litigation and co-author of “Evidence for the Trial Lawyer." His experience includes the successful representation of injured passengers of the 2009 WMATA (DC Metro) Fort Trotten train crash.