Distracted driving legislation falls flat in General Assembly

Distracted driving — Proposed changes to distracted driving bills have yet to make it past the General Assembly. Photo Credit: Laura Foster.

Measures to limit distracted driving have been a popular topic in this General Assembly session. Although several bills have been proposed, none of them have made it out of the committees.

Virginia lawmakers proposed several distracted driving bills during the General Assembly session, and none of them succeeded.

The 10 bills would have been much stricter on distracted drivers, including making talking on a cell phone while driving a primary offense. This means police officers would be able to pull a driver over for illegally talking or texting on a device.

Now it is a secondary offense — meaning a driver has to be pulled over for another offense first, like running a red light.

“I don’t even talk on the phone let alone text (while driving),” senior Liberty University student Marie Johnson said. “It’s dangerous, but so many students do it on campus anyway.”

Johnson said she does not feel safe driving when so many people are looking down at their phones instead of on the road.

It is a safety issue she hopes will become less common in the future. She is not alone as studies and awareness projects have been conducted across the nation to address the issue.

“Close to half of all adults who use text messaging say they have sent or read messages while behind the wheel,” a 2010 project conducted by the Pew Research Center stated.

The study went on to report that 44 percent of adults surveyed have been in a car when the driver used a cellphone in a way that created a dangerous situation.

A study done by Transurban-Fluor and AAA Mid-Atlantic showed a similar pattern including statistics for accidents caused by drivers on cell phones.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is waging a campaign against distracted driving. Distraction.gov is the DOT website dedicated to providing advice for novice drivers and statistics of cell phone users, accidents and environmental factors that deal with distracted driving.

“With the number of people who are involved in accidents, laws will probably pass in the future,” Johnson said. “I hope they do.”

With these studies and nationwide efforts to cut down on distracted driving, many are wondering why Virginia lawmakers would kill the legislation, including the Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic John Townsend.

“That tells you the seriousness of the problem. The only people who are not taking it seriously are the lawmakers in Virginia,” Townsend said in an interview with TBD.com.

The Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety rejected the bills even after the Senate gave approval to one bill that sought to make it illegal to talk on a device that was not hands-free while driving. The Rules Committee was also responsible for killing a bill.

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