Proposed bill would fine distracted drivers in Va. up to $500

Updated: Feb. 14, 2018 at 6:58 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Police in Virginia could soon be handing out significantly more tickets for distracted driving, if a proposed bill passes through the General Assembly.

House Bill 181 would allow police to hand out tickets up to $500 to erratic drivers distracted by cell phones.

Currently in Virginia, drivers can talk on the phone and even arguably scroll through apps. It's texting that's illegal, unless the car is stopped.

The measure would allow officers to pull over anyone who is swerving or showing signs of distraction, because they're using their cell phones - in any way.

"If using your cell phone substantially diverts your attention from the road, you should be held accountable for it," said Delegate Mike Mullin, Peninsula Democrat, who is sponsoring the bill. "Our state saw an uptick in traffic deaths for the first time in 40 years, and I believe tackling distracted driving is the best way to address this rise."

Legislators say officers can pull over dangerous drivers who they believe are texting. However, that driver can simply tell the judge they were just looking at Facebook or other apps, which is technically legal.

"There were a lot of cases where... someone would get a ticket written and then they would get it thrown out in court," said Brantley Tyndall, Sports Backers community engagement manager for Bike Walk RVA.

Sports Backers advocates for Richmond's vast community of joggers and cyclists. The organization is supporting the bill, which passed the House of Delegates on Tuesday. It now must be passed by the Senate.

"People call us all the time. They tell us they had a terrible experience because they had a near collision since someone was looking at their phone, instead of looking at the road," continued Tyndall. "Distracted driving has actually been seen to be 23 times more impairing than just being drunk."

"If (other drivers) are going into my lane, I look to see what's going on. And I see that they're usually looking down at their phone," said Jodi Bock, who supports the bill.

"If the laws are too vague, they need to be broadened, so that we can enforce this," added Jay Willmott, another driver.

There would be exceptions to the distracted driving law, including for first responders, anyone experiencing an emergency, or if you're parked or stopped in the car.

Similar distracted driving bills have been introduced for the past nine years, but none passed.