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Bill would significantly broaden Virginia distracted driving laws

The Virginia Senate has recently approved legislation that would make it illegal to use a handheld cellphone while operating a motor vehicle. The bill passed by a 29-11 vote. The bill will now go on to the Virginia House of Representatives and, if approved, to the governor's desk for a signature.

Under the bill, motorists would be prohibited from holding a cellphone to their ears while operating a motor vehicle. However, motorists will still be able to utilize voice activation services. Motorists will also still be able to make phone calls using their cellphone's speakerphone feature. Playing music on one's cellphone or using a cellphone GPS will only be permitted if the cellphone has been attached to either the vehicle's windshield or dashboard. Finally, motorists would be prohibited from using the Internet or social media services while operating their motor vehicles on the interstate. If a motorist breaks this law, he or she would receive a $125 fine and a traffic violation. A second or subsequent incident of breaking this law would lead to a $250 fine.

The bill does have a number of exceptions, however. Motorists may use their cellphones to call 911 or respond to an emergency. Also, motorists who are operating Department of Transportation vehicles would be exempt. If a motorist is sitting in a stopped or parked car, he or she would not be cited. Finally, the use of amateur or citizens band radio would still be allowed. The bill would also allow motorists to use dashboard touchscreens found in some newer motor vehicles that wirelessly connect to the motorist's cellphone. As the law in Virginia currently stands, law enforcement officers are only permitted to pull motorists over if the motorist is texting and driving.

While this bill carves out a number of exceptions, some feel that it is too draconian. One senator who opposed the bill has stated the bill is too invasive. Another senator who opposed the bill likened the bill to "hitting the problem with a sledgehammer." He stated the bill was unwanted, unnecessary and too costly. Other opponents of the bill have pointed out that not everyone is able to afford cellphone mounts, new cellphones or Bluetooth handsets. While distracted driving is an issue, this bill may go too far. However, if a motorist has been cited for texting and driving or other traffic offenses, that motorist may want to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

Source: theglobaldispatch.com, "Virginia Senate Approves Distracted Driving Bill," March 15, 2018

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