Drivers question proposed texting while driving law enforcement - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

Drivers question proposed texting while driving law enforcement

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

It's a heated debate that's drawing concerns all across the state. Many people will admit texting and driving can be dangerous, but at what cost should violators be penalized? There are concerns about how police officers will enforce a tougher no texting and driving law and concern they could take it too far.

You can do it without thinking, getting behind the wheel and clicking send to that text message. Those in favor of a bill on the table say it causes drivers to become distracted. Others say this may be true, but how will police enforce it?

"You're driving so you need to be concentrating on driving, not texting," said Tanishia Townes.

"I think that it should be illegal," Carol Kark added.

In Virginia, it is but only as secondary offense, meaning an officer cannot pull you over just because you're texting. A recent bill lawmakers just approved would change that.

"All we're doing here is making an existing law stronger," said Janet Brooking of Drive Smart.

The stronger law, if Governor Bob McDonnell signs off, would also increase the fine for texting to $250 on the first offense and $500 on the second. If convicted for reckless driving, there would be a minimum $500 fine if the driver was also texting. Some drivers are saying - not so fast.

"You don't know what the person is doing. If you pull the person over for guessing, that's wrong right there," said Marcus Hunt.

That's the American Civil Liberties Union's concern.

"We remain very concerned that discriminatory policing is in fact happening in Virginia and the texting law offers another opportunity….The decision whether to charge somebody is made on an individual basis by an individual police officer," said Claire Gastanaga.

We took that concern to the Chiefs of Police Association.

"As with any law, our officers are trained to use their best judgment to determine whether there is a texting activity that is contributing to improper and hazardous driving.  We see the key benefit of this law as being a means to get drivers to correct their own driving behavior and take greater care to pay attention to the road and minimize distractions, such as texting.  And, when a crash occurs, an officer will investigate whether the driver was texting to determine the contributing factors to the crash," Executive Director Dana Schrad said.

The ACLU says it has one request.

"Train their officers not to use this as an excuse to stop somebody when in fact their purpose is not really to enforce this law but to do something else," Gastanaga said.

"Were going to work with the Chiefs of Police Association to make sure law enforcement is educated on exactly how the law is to be applied," Brooking added.

Henrico Police Chief Douglass Middleton says his officers are trained to verify a driver's actions and validate a violation before taking action.    

The Governor's office said McDonnell will review this plan, but he has some concerns.

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