Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Virginia State News

February 6, 2013

Virginia House, Senate pass bills stiffening texting while driving penalties

TAZEWELL, Va. — The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would make sending or reading text messages while driving a primary offense.

If signed into law by Gov. Bob  McDonnell, the measure would make texting while driving a primary offense, fining offenders $250 for their first offense and $500 for their second or subsequent offense. Motorists charged with reckless driving as the result of texting would also face a minimum $500 fine.

The Senate voted 24-15 to make texting while driving a primary offense as well as increase the fine to $250 with Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, voting in favor of the bill.

The House of Delegates voted 92-4 Tuesday to pass an identical bill, though Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, voted against the bill.

“This issue has been extremely controversial with the rise of accidents and vehicular fatalities as a result of texting while driving,” Morefield said. “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 it 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.”

Morefield said he does anticipate that Gov. Bob McDonnell will sign the bill into law.

“I anticipate the bill will most likely become law. In the meantime, I highly encourage people to not text while driving and hope that parents are making their children aware of how dangerous it is.”

The bill would exempt operators of emergency vehicles, drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped and drivers using factory installed or aftermarket GPS systems or wireless communications systems.

Presently, texting while driving is a secondary offense punishable by a $20 fine in Virginia.

Similar bills to make texting while driving a primary offense were proposed in 2010 and 2011, but neither passed.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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