House sub-committee favors tougher texting while driving law - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

House sub-committee favors tougher texting while driving law

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Virginia lawmakers are moving closer to tougher penalties for distracting driving. Friday, bi-partisan support showed momentum to make texting and driving a primary offense.

Texting and driving is already illegal in Virginia as a secondary offense, but some lawmakers' push to amend the law, making it a primary offense, is moving forward.

"There are several different ways you can be distracted in the car. You've got cognitive distraction, you've got visual distraction, you've got manual distraction and texting involves all three of those," says Janet Brooking with Drive Smart.

It's an issue her group has battled from day one, making texting while driving a primary reason a police officer can pull you over. Right now, that's not the case in Virginia.

"You have a shared responsibility to be safe on the roadway and keep yourself safe so that others sharing that road can be safe as well," Brooking said.

Friday, a House sub-committee worked through several bills, agreeing to recommend making texting and driving a primary offense, raising the penalty from $20 to $250 for the first offense and $500 for the second. It will also recommend the possibility of a more severe charge for anyone found texting after being pulled over for reckless driving.

Despite the growing support, there are some components of the measure that aren't sitting well with everyone.

"Distracted driving is a big problem, but it has always been a problem, long before we all had phones.  While there is no question that cell phone use behind the wheel is distracting, there is no evidence that the laws that have been enacted around the country restricting it have made roads safer.  That is, the laws haven't reduced crashes," said Russ Rader with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Lawmakers are noting the pros and cons.

"This is a very complicated area of the law that requires some very careful drafting. There are lots of enforcement and privacy issues," Delegate Scott Surrovell said.

The issues, though, are ones a House committee is ready for their counterparts to tackle.

Though Friday's discussion was a step forward for those wanting tougher texting and driving penalties, it's not the end of the road. The next step is for the measure to go to the full House committee Monday.

Copyright 2013 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.

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