Some Virginia bills to address road safety advance, others die

| 2/16/2007

In the hours leading up to a deadline to advance bills in the Virginia General Assembly, three bills intended to address highway safety concerns moved forward while others weren’t as fortunate.

House lawmakers unanimously approved a bill Feb. 6 – the last day for the House and Senate to act on their own legislation – that would prohibit all drivers from lingering in the passing lane on the state’s roadways. Sponsored by Delegate Melanie Rapp, R-Yorktown, the measure would reserve the left lane for drivers passing other vehicles. Exceptions would include exiting to the left and avoiding people or debris.

The bill – HB1934 – would require the Virginia State Police to prepare and implement a public awareness campaign to educate the public of the prohibition. The bill’s next stop is the Senate.

Another House-approved bill targets alcohol-related reckless drivers.

Sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, the bill – HB1708 – would require those who had their driver’s licenses suspended for reckless driving for alcohol-related or drug-related reasons to complete an alcohol safety action program before they could have their licenses reinstated.

Novice drivers chatting on the phone or with other devices while behind the wheel are the subject of a bill that advanced to the House from the Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Jay O’Brien, R-Clifton, the bill – SB1039 – would prohibit drivers under age 19 from using any cell phone, hand-held or “hands free,” or other wireless device.

Violations of the restriction would be a secondary offense – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. Emergency calls would be exempted.

Anyone caught in violation would face a traffic infraction. Repeat offenders could lose their driving privileges for six months.

Among the highway safety-related bills that didn’t make it out of their original chamber prior to the deadline was a bill that was intended to reduce the likelihood of road rage. The bill – HB1933 – allowed law enforcement to ticket motorists for blocking traffic in the left lane. Failure to give way to an overtaking vehicle would have resulted in at least a $250 fine.

Two bills that died focused on young drivers.

The first bill – SB1040 – would have made violation of the various restrictions for drivers under age 19, such as passenger and curfew limitations, primary offenses. Existing law requires offenders be pulled over for another offense before being ticketed for an age restriction.

The second bill – HB1655 – affecting novice drivers required teens with learner’s permits to spend more time practicing. It sought to increase the minimum practice time from 40 to 50 hours. At least 15 of those hours must have been spent driving after sunset – up from the current 10 hours.

One other unrelated bill – HB1772 – would have given law enforcement officers more power to arrest people caught speeding. It allowed officers to arrest people for speeding even if they are out of uniform. The only requirement would have been that they display a badge.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor