The Virginia legislature has passed a bill by a healthy majority in both houses that would toughen current texting-behind-the-wheel laws. The measure now sits on Republican Governor Bob McDonnell's desk for his consideration. According to media reports, the governor's office has not revealed whether he will sign it, rather that he will "review" it and has some concerns.

Current law

Currently, it is illegal to type or read a text or email on a handheld communications device while operating a moving vehicle. The prohibition does not apply to emergency messages, emergency personnel who are working, drivers "lawfully parked or stopped," or the use of GPS or wireless dispatch systems.

New proposals

The new anti-texting bill has three main provisions that would impact current laws:

  • Fines for violation of the anti-texting law would increase steeply from $20 to $250 for the first offense, and from $50 to $500 for the second.
  • Texting-behind-the-wheel would become a primary offense for which law enforcement could stop drivers suspected of that violation. Current law makes it a secondary offense, only allowing officers to charge suspects with it after validly stopping the drivers for other offenses, such as speeding or reckless driving.
  • A driver convicted of reckless driving would also incur a $500 mandatory minimum fine if he or she also had violated the anti-texting law while driving recklessly.

Pros and cons

Supporters of the bill hope it will be a deterrent that will cut down on distracted driving. The Fairfax Times published a comment by Del. Richard Anderson, R-District 51, that he introduced a similar bill after hearing from a neighbor that a brother had died because of a driver who had been texting. Anderson said he got "hundreds" of emails in the current session favoring the legislation. By contrast, he only received one message against it. 

Interestingly, the Virginia Gazette interviewed Sen. Thomas Norment, R-District 3, who sponsored the bill, and Sen. Norment actually had hoped to get a tougher bill through - one, for example, that would have defined texting while driving as reckless driving.

Opponents cite concerns about the potential for police harassment and profiling because it would be difficult to adequately determine that a driver was actually texting while driving before pulling him or her over for the offense.

Distracted driving is dangerous

Regardless of what happens with the bill, texting while driving and other distractions behind the wheel are contributing to injury and death in the commonwealth. According to the nonprofit DRIVE SMART Virginia, eighty percent of Virginia motor vehicle accidents involve distracted driving.

The privilege of driving also brings with it the duty to drive with reasonable care for the safety of others. If you are in an accident and suspect distraction may have been a factor, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to help you deal with the insurance companies and to educate you about your potential legal remedies.

If at the time of the crash the other driver was texting while driving, engaging in other negligent or reckless behavior, or is found to have violated Virginia traffic laws, your civil lawsuit would likely be strengthened by that information.