Virginia bill to prohibit ‘texting’ while driving is shelved

| 1/24/2008

An effort in the Virginia House to prohibit drivers from text messaging while driving has been put on hold until next year. Another driver-distraction bill, however, remains active.

Delegate James Scott, D-Falls Church, offered a bill that would make it illegal for people to operate a motor vehicle while reading, typing or sending text messages on an electronic wireless device, such as a BlackBerry.

For good measure, the ban also would apply to bicyclists as well as moped and motorcycle drivers.

The House Transportation Committee voted Tuesday, Jan. 22, to refer the bill – HB39 – to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science for further study. The move effectively kills any ban this year.

Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using the devices while driving have picked up steam in recent months. Advocates for the ban cite a Nationwide Mutual Insurance survey that found one in five drivers “texting” while driving. That number nearly doubles for drivers aged 18 to 27.

Virginia law already prohibits drivers under 18 from using any wireless devices while driving. But the ban doesn’t extend to adults.

Only New Jersey and Washington restrict all drivers from text messaging.

Scott said he was staying positive despite the setback. He said additional discussion on the bill in Virginia will help when he reintroduces the bill in 2009.

Another bill intended to reduce driver distractions, however, continues to draw consideration in the state’s House. Sponsored by Rep. Robert Mathieson, D-Virginia Beach, the measure would require pets, including diesel dogs and cabin cats, to be clear of the vehicle’s driving area while cruising down the highway.

More specifically, the bill – HB533 – would prohibit driving with an animal on the driver’s lap or interfering with the driver’s control of the vehicle. It is in the House Transportation Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor