Virginia bills would prohibit ‘texting,’ talking on the phone while driving

| 12/5/2008

Two efforts offered for consideration in Virginia during the 2009 regular session would prohibit drivers from text messaging and chatting on the phone while driving.

Delegate Algie Howell Jr., D-Norfolk, has prefiled a bill – HB1615 – for consideration during the session that begins Jan. 14 to 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. Violators would face fines of $20. Repeat offenders would face $50 fines.

Exceptions would be made for emergency calls.

Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using the devices while driving have picked up steam in the past couple of years. 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.

Adults would be included in a separate bill. Delegate Bobby Mathieson, D-Virginia Beach, is the sponsor of a measure – HB904 – that would ban hand-held cell phone use while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a hands-free device would still be permitted.

Exceptions would be made for emergency calls.

California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that ban all drivers from using hand-held phones. The California, New Jersey and Washington state laws also prohibit text messaging. Alaska and Minnesota recently approved their own bans on text messaging.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor