Bills seek to curb distracted driving in Virginia

Bills seek to curb distracted driving in Virginia

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Two Virginia lawmakers hope to curb distracted driving by making it illegal to have our phone in your hand while behind the wheel.

Roxanne Gabel says such a law could have saved her 21-year-old daughter’s life.

“It’s hell to never be able to see her, talk to her and to know she won’t be able to see her son,” Gabel said Wednesday at press conference organized by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, and Del. Chris Collins, R-Fredrick.

Right now, it’s illegal to text or check your email while driving in Virginia – but you can hold your phone to talk while you drive.

It hasn't even been two year's since Roxanne lost her daughter, Lakin, to distracted driving.

Lakin took a photo on Snapchat just before her fatal crash in 2017. Her son was just three months old at the time.

"What she was doing was not illegal. Snapchatting is not illegal, Facebook is not illegal,” said Collins and Stuart.

Now all Lakin’s little boy has left left of his mother is the sound of her voice in a blue Build-a-Bear.

Lakin won’t get to see anymore of her son’s firsts, but the family she’s left behind hopes to see a Virginia law that completely stops drivers from having a phone in hand.

Under current law, only texting while driving is a primary offense in Virginia. The two bills - House Bill 1811 and Senate Bill 1341 will expand the law to make any interaction with a phone while driving a primary offense.

The proposal would make a first offense $125 and subsequent offenses $250.

“Traditionally I’ve resisted these (bills), I’ll be honest with you,” Stuart said at the press conference. “But it has come to the point where people are so totally engrossed in their phones that they are almost oblivious to the world around them, and that’s just a really dangerous recipe on a highway.”

A bill passed a House subcommittee. Bills are co-sponsored by Del. Michael Mullen, D-Newport News, and Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax and have bipartisan support.

Legislators said the rising number of distracted driving fatalities shows the need for such legislation.

According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 208 distraction-related traffic fatalities last year, an 18 percent increase compared with 2016. During the same time frame, alcohol-related traffic fatalities fell more than 5 percent.

“In some respects, driving with a phone in your hand can be just as dangerous as driving with a .15 blood alcohol level,” Collins said. “When this is something that law enforcement takes seriously and something the courts take seriously, people will change their behavior.”

Evie King of Capital News Service - a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture - contributed to this report. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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