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Rick Shapiro
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Distracted Driving: Making a PSA a good law.

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The roads of Virginia are becoming safer by the day, thanks to the efforts of a few key law makers. In a text book example of reaching across the isle, two policymakers who normally would not even sit at the same table have come together in support of tougher penalties for texting while driving. Del. Ben Cline, a Republican from Rockbridge County, and Del. Scott Survoell, a Democratt from Fairfax County are both backing legislation for the 2013 General Assembly seeking to limit the use of handheld devices while driving.

The Bill, as promoted by Cline and Survoell, would make anything other than sending and receiving a phone call a crime punishable as reckless driving. This Bill also seeks to negate the current texting law which has been in place since 2009, which calls for a $20.00 fine for an initial texting offense, and an increase to a $50.00 fine for any subsequent violations. Under the current texting law, charges can only be filed if the driver is first stopped for a separate traffic infraction.

If the proposed Bill is successful, Texting, Emailing, Web Surfing, or any other distracting conduct would now be considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, receiving a punishment of up to a $2,500.00 fine, or twelve months in jail. Cline, in an anticipation of backlash over the bill, has referenced other sections of the code which denote behaviors of reckless driving, and that it would only be appropriate to add texting to that list.

Safety advocates including EndDD are already backing this bill, with the Virginia Coalition For Distracted Free Driving, and the Virginia State Crime Commission endorsing the bill. The current law has already led to over 200 convictions in 2010, and 300 convictions in 2011, making it an important action item for roadway safety groups.

The only sticking point for lawmakers seems to be the distinction between texting and dialing a cell phone, and the ability for a police officer to tell the difference between the two. Those who are in opposition of the law believe that this would push Virginia to be a hands free state, in which even dialing of a phone would be illegal while driving,.

Although the Bill still requires some fine tuning, it is a step in the right direction towards safety on the streets of Virginia. Many believe the law needed more “teeth”, and harsher penalties for those caught. Distracted driving, and driving while texting, is a pandemic, and citizens and lawmakers both must understand the importance of keeping our citizens safe, and secure on our roads.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.