Bill to Toughen Virginia’s Distracted Driving Law Before General Assembly

by Lee Hernly, Editor
Delegate Chris Collins and Senator Richard Stuart are leading an effort to toughen Virginia’s distracted driving law in the General Assembly.

Delegate Chris Collins and Senator Richard Stuart are leading a growing effort to save lives by toughening Virginia’s distracted driving law. Collins and Stuart have partnered with the DRIVE SMART Virginia Coalition for Safe Driving to craft a bill that prohibits drivers from using a wireless device while driving, unless that device is operated in a hands-free manner.

Originally passed in 2009, the existing law is antiquated and addresses only texting and emailing while driving.

“We see too many traffic crashes and tragedies caused by distracted driving,” said Collins. “This is affecting everyone, from road users, to law enforcement officials and first responders trying to keep us safe, to highway workers who are maintaining and improving our roadways. It’s time for us to take action to protect those using our roads in order to save lives in the Commonwealth.”

Traffic fatalities in Virginia have increased every year since 2013, and last year 25% of those fatalities were caused by distracted driving. “As our phones have grown far more advanced and there is so much more to distract us, there are countless numbers of reasons why a hands-free phone law is needed,” said Stuart. “I am optimistic that 2019 is the year that the General Assembly of Virginia will vote to save the lives of so many Virginians.”

Legislators in both the House and Senate have signed on in support, hailing from rural and
urban areas, both Democrats and Republicans. These include Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), Delegate Mike Mullin (D-Williamsburg), Delegate Mike Webert (R-Culpeper), Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) and Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-Northumberland). HB1811/SB1341 would prohibit the use of a handheld personal communications device while operating a motor vehicle unless the device is specifically designed to allow hands-free and voice operation and is being used in that manner.

The DRIVE SMART Virginia Coalition for Safe Driving is a diverse coalition of law enforcement, businesses, and associations that agree that distracted driving is a problem that must be addressed. “Our goal is to reduce injuries and fatalities on the roadways of Virginia,” said Janet Brooking, DRIVE SMART Virginia Executive Director. “Distracted driving has been identified as a leading causative factor, and hand-held phone use is the most pressing issue due to the cognitive, visual, and manual distractions involved.”

The facts speak for themselves:

  • 80% of all crashes and 65% of all near crashes involve driver inattention within 3
    seconds of the crash. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)
  • 94% of all crashes are caused by driver error. (NHTSA)
  • Texting (manipulating a phone) while driving increases your crash risk by as much as 2300%, because it involves all THREE kinds of distraction – manual, visual and cognitive. It is by far the most egregious form of distracted driving. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified distracted driving as “a
    crisis that needs to be addressed now.”
  • 13 states saw an average 16% decrease in traffic fatalities within 2 years of passing a
    handheld device ban. (Georgia House Study Committee on Distracted Driving)
  • Virginia, which has not banned the use of handheld devices while driving, saw a
    10.8% increase in traffic fatalities in 2017 compared to 2016 (There was a 1.8% decrease nationally). In fact, fatalities have increased every year since 2013. (Virginia
  • There were 208 distraction-related traffic fatalities in Virginia in 2017 – representing
    25% of all fatal crashes. This is an 18.2% increase compared to 2016! (Virginia DMV
  • During that same time, there were 248 alcohol-related traffic fatalities (a decrease
    of 5.3% compared to 2016). (Virginia DMV TREDS)
  • Total distracted driving fatalities, top jurisdictions (starting with worst): Fairfax
    County, James City County, Prince William, Henrico, Suffolk, Frederick, Chesapeake,
    Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Rockingham County
  • Per Capita distracted driving fatalities, top jurisdictions (starting with worst): Bland,
    Dinwiddie, Amelia, James City, Patrick, Buckingham, Clarke, Rockbridge, Wythe
  • Total distracted driving injury crashes, top jurisdictions (starting with worst): Fairfax
    County, Prince William, Virginia Beach, Newport News, Henrico, Hampton,
    Richmond City, Loudoun, Chesterfield, Norfolk
  • Per capita distracted driving injury crashes, top jurisdictions (starting with worst):
    Greensville, Fredericksburg, Staunton, Hampton, Franklin City, Emporia, Newport
    News, Petersburg, Southampton, Montgomery

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