Legislators Eye Texting Law

Revisions Could Make Tech Use While Driving A Primary Offense

Posted: December 4, 2012

HARRISONBURG — The Virginia Crime Commission could vote Wednesday to recommend changes in the state’s law on texting while driving, including making it a primary offense.


Texting while driving is now a secondary offense, meaning a police officer must have another reason, such as speeding, to pull a vehicle over before a ticket can be issued.


Any recommendations for changes in the law would be forwarded to the Virginia General Assembly for consideration.


Commission member Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, didn’t say specifically what would be proposed, but said change is needed.


“This problem has gotten out of hand,” Gilbert said. “It’s too great of a risk to public safety not to step up enforcement efforts.”


Rockingham County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Clark Ritchie agreed the law must be looked at, and not just now but in the future, as well.


“The law needs to keep up with technology,” Ritchie said. “Distracted driving can reap unspeakable tragedies. Anything that can mitigate that needs to be strongly considered.”


In 2009, texting while driving was made a secondary offense in Virginia. The violation yields a motorist a $20 fine.


Concerns over the law grew in October when a Fairfax County judge ruled that a driver in a fatal May 2011 wreck couldn’t be charged with reckless driving just because he was texting at the time of the crash.


According to The Washington Post, the driver in the case, an Alexandria resident, struck and killed a college student, who was pushing his stalled car out of the roadway. Police later determined that the driver likely just opened a text message when he ran into the student.


The Post article said the judge made his ruling based on the state’s weak texting law and pointed the finger at the General Assembly.


Gilbert disagreed, saying the current law is sufficient for a judge to consider texting while driving reckless.


“The judge has a misunderstanding of the law in Virginia,” he said.

Regardless of the judge’s ruling, Gilbert said, the law needs tweaking. The statute now reads that a person must be communicating with someone else; playing games or updating a calendar, for example, are not prohibited under the law.


“You can be playing Angry Birds or rewriting ‘War and Peace’ on your phone and not be violating the law,” Gilbert said. “That’s one of the problems with the current laws.”


Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or pdelea@dnronline.com

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