Virginia bills address road safety

| 1/16/2007

Since the Virginia General Assembly opened its new session earlier this month, several bills have been introduced that are intended to address highway safety concerns.

Delegate Melanie Rapp, R-Yorktown, has introduced a bill that would prohibit all drivers from lingering in the passing lane on the state's roadways. The measure - HB1934 - would reserve the left lane for drivers passing other vehicles. Exceptions would include exiting to the left and avoiding persons or debris.

The Virginia State Police would be required to prepare and implement a public awareness campaign to educate the public of the prohibition.

Rapp offered a related bill that is intended to reduce the likelihood of road rage. That bill - HB1933 - would allow law enforcement to ticket motorists for blocking traffic in the left lane. Failure to give way to an overtaking vehicle would result in at least a $250 fine.

Novice drivers chatting on the phone or with other devices while behind the wheel are the subject of another bill.

Sen. Jay O'Brien, R-Clifton, has offered a bill - SB1039 - that would prohibit drivers under age 19 from using any cell phone, hand-held or "hands free," or other wireless device. Violators could be pulled over solely for using the devices. Emergency calls would be exempted.

A separate bill - SB1040 - offered by O'Brien - would make the violation of various restrictions for drivers under age 19, such as passenger and curfew limitations, primary offenses. Existing law requires that offenders be pulled over for another offense before being ticketed for an age restriction.

Another bill affecting novice drivers would require teens with learner's permits to spend more time practicing. Sponsored by Delegate Matthew Lohr, R-Broadway, the bill - HB1655 - would increase the minimum practice time from 40 to 50 hours. At least 15 of those hours must be spent driving after sunset - up from the current 10 hours.

Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, has introduced a measure that targets alcohol-related reckless drivers.

The bill - HB1708 - would require those who had their driver's license suspended for reckless driving that was alcohol-related or drug-related to complete an alcohol safety action program before they could have their driver's license reinstated.

One other bill - HB1772 - would give law enforcement officers more power to arrest people caught speeding.

Sponsored by Delegate John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, the effort would allow officers to arrest people for speeding even if they are out of uniform. The only requirement would be that they display a badge.

The bills are in their respective transportation committees.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor