Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 20, 2013

Va. gets tougher on texting

RICHMOND, Va. — Texting while driving in the Commonwealth of Virginia will soon be a primary offense.

The Senate voted 28-12 Tuesday to pass a House bill that makes texting while driving a primary offense. The legislation also increases the fine for a first offense to $250. A second offense would net an offender a $500 fine. As a primary offense, police will be able to stop and ticket offenders.

The bill is now awaiting the signature of Gov. Bob McDonnell. If he signs the measure, the new law would take effect on July 1. Texting while driving is currently a secondary offense in Virginia, which means drivers can only be cited if they’re stopped for another offense such as speeding.

Area lawmakers were divided over the issue. Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, voted in favor of the bill Tuesday in the Senate. Delegate James W.  “Will” Morefield II, R-Tazewell, voted against the measure in the House earlier this month.

“I think it is something that will help a lot of people, and particularly save some lives,” Puckett said. “That is what we are hoping for.”

Puckett said many in the state’s 38th senatorial district complain about distracted drivers, including those who are talking on the phone and or texting while driving.

“Certainly the constituents notice this as they drive and travel,” Puckett said. “You don’t have to look hard to see what’s going on out there. And secondly the statistical information is overwhelming as to the accidents and deaths that might be attributed to something like this — particularly to the young people.”

Puckett said he anticipates McDonnell signing the legislation into law, and police enforcing the new rules beginning July 1.

“I think law enforcement will be involved in trying to enforce it from day one,” Puckett said. “There is always a little bit of a learning curve on something like this. But what this bill does is give the officer a chance to stop someone (who is texting while driving). I think they will enforce it.”

Morefield voted against the House measure earlier this month.

“This issue has been extremely controversial with the rise of accidents and vehicular fatalities as a result of texting while driving,” Morefield said in an earlier interview. “I am in favor of increasing the fines for texting, but I voted against the bill because it makes the offense a primary offense. I am concerned with this because it gives a police officer the authority to pull an individual over simply if they are suspected of texting. I am concerned that in some cases an individual may simply be picking their mobile phone up to answer and potentially be charged with texting while driving. Of course, an individual can always prove if they were texting or not, but I do not like the fact they can be pulled over for suspicion of texting.”

Another provision of the bill says anyone convicted of reckless driving faces a mandatory minimum $500 fine if the driver was texting at the time of the offense, according to the Associated Press.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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