A bill that would make texting or email while driving a primary offense has passed the Virginia Senate and seems on the fast track to full passage by the Virginia legislature. Currently texting is a secondary offense in Virginia – something you can only be ticketed for when pulled over for some other infraction.
The Senate bill, SB 219 concerning “Handheld personal communications devices” sponsored by Senator George Barker, a Democrat from Fairfax County, would authorize police to pull over drivers who appear to be distracted by their cell phones. If passed into law, the bill would make the follow acts a primary offense:
- Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person
- Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in the device nor to any caller identification information.
Some argue that the wording of the bill puts police officers in the difficult circumstance of having to quickly analyze what a driver is doing with their device when making the decision to hit the blue lights.
Others have suggested that, if passed, the new law might inadvertently pre-empt more serious charges such as reckless driving, lessening existing penalties for drivers whose attention has wandered away from the road.
The other major issue with anti-texting legislation is that there are myriad things that can distract drivers when behind the wheel, wether it be a tasty snack, fighting children or even a particularly vivid daydream.
Singling out certain ways that we use mobile devices as a banned behavior should require a high standard for targeting that one activity amongst many others that might undermine safe driving. That said, there are studies of the effects of smart phone usage on driver behavior that should give us pause.