Texting bill clears big hurdle in state senate

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Despite the danger, people text and drive every day.  Now, state lawmakers are trying to make it a primary offense so police can pull you over for it.  But it's a tough law to get on the books and we wanted to know why.

A new bill cleared a big hurdle Monday in the state senate but there's still a long road ahead before an officer can pull you over for only texting while driving.

You're driving and your phone beeps at you.  Do you take your eyes off the road to check your text message?  According to Senate Bill 219 sponsor Sen. George Barker, more people are answering "yes" to that question and putting more Virginia drivers at risk.

"It makes a huge difference in terms of fatalities here in Virginia in terms of serious accidents," he explained.  "It's a risk not just to the driver of the vehicle who is doing it but to other people in other vehicles."

Monday, ten senators in a GOP ruled committee agreed with the democrat and sent his bill to the senate floor.  Right now, texting while driving is a secondary offense, which means police can't pull you over for just that.

If it makes it through the senate, the bill faces a tough battle in the house.

Barker told NBC12 the biggest issue he's heard is whether or not a police officer should be able to flash those blue lights if they see something going on but they can't be sure the driver is texting.

We took the concern to NBC12 Legal Analyst Steve Benjamin.

"I don't think it would be difficult to prove because most people when confronted will tell the truth," he explained.  "If they do decide to commit perjury and lie about it well there's ways to prove that, as well."

One other concern raised is that the twenty dollar texting fine could replace a reckless driving ticket, which carries a larger fine. Barker maintained officers would still be able to use their discretion.

We've seen this bill in the General Assembly in years past but it has never made it all the way through the process.  This year, though, Barker believes there's greater awareness.  Momentum is building.

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