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A new state law may be tough to enforce, but should get the attention of distracted drivers.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
A new state law that took effect last week is supposed to strengthen enforcement of Virginia’s ban on texting while driving and increase penalties for those who fiddle with their cellphone keypads when their eyes should be on the road.
The new law is flawed and won’t be easy for police to enforce. But we can hope that the mere prospect of getting pulled over and slapped with a $125 fine will be enough of an OMG attention-getter to discourage distracted driving. If so, a tortured piece of legislation will serve a useful purpose.
Until this year, the General Assembly had been slow to combat the growing danger posed by motorists who type and read text messages or browse the Internet while driving. Police could issue a citation for texting only after stopping a driver for a separate infraction. A first offense carried a meager $20 fine.
Some of the legislature’s most stubborn holdouts finally saw the need for a tougher law after a Fairfax County judge acquitted a motorist of reckless driving in connection with a 2011 fatal accident, despite evidence that the driver had opened a text message about the same time as the crash. The judge determined that texting while driving, then a secondary offense, was not sufficient to prove recklessness.
State lawmakers could have considered an outright prohibition on using cellphones and handheld devices while driving, but opted for a narrowly tailored texting ban that will be tough to enforce. Under the new law, drivers still can take a hand off the wheel to place or receive a phone call, pull up a music playlist or punch an address into a GPS. Any of those actions could resemble texting to a patrolling officer. Because the new law makes texting a primary offense, an officer can pull over a driver on mere suspicion. But proving that the law has been violated could be difficult.
Drivers can help matters by putting down their phones or, better yet, sticking them in their glove boxes. If they feel compelled to check their email or swap texts with friends, they should pull off the road first. Not because they might get a ticket and a $125 fine, but because they can make the roads a little safer for themselves and everyone else.
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