Both chambers of the General Assembly passed legislation Tuesday that bans holding a cellphone for any reason while driving, ending years of debate and replacing a current ban on texting that police said was virtually unenforceable.
Lawmakers who opposed tightening restrictions said their views have changed as they’ve encountered more and more dangerous drivers on highways and roads.
“When you finally get around them and see, they’re texting,” said Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. “This bill actually saves lives. I’m convinced of that.”
Under the legislation, hands-free use of phones is still allowed. So for instance, to use a GPS app legally, you could mount it to your dash.
Assuming it’s signed into law by the governor, it would go into effect in January 2020. A first violation would be punishable by a $125 fine. The fine increases to $250 for subsequent offenses and any violations in work zones.
The current law only banned texting and emailing while driving, but police have said they were unable to effectively enforce it because they had no way to prove what people were using their phone for when they were pulled over.
State police briefly tested a special enforcement detail in which officers would ride in an unmarked van and photograph driver’s phones in a way that showed the text bubbles. But they have not used the technique in years.