RICHMOND – The General Assembly has a message for drivers: keep your hands on the wheel and off your smart phone’s qwerty keyboard.
That was again conveyed Friday when a Virginia Senate committee advanced compromise legislation to make fines for texting while driving more expensive and allow police to stop a driver for the offense.
Legislation from Del. Rich Anderson, R-Prince William County, would create first offense fines of $250 for texting or e-mailing on a handheld communication device; subsequent offenses would carry a $500 fine.
Additionally, his HB 1907 would mandate a minimum $500 fine for people convicted of reckless driving who also violate the tougher texting law.
And it would allow police to stop motorists for such violations.
Texting policy added to Virginia law in 2009 – Del. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, carried the bill – makes violations a secondary offense so police can’t stop motorists solely for that reason but can cite people pulled over for other infractions.
The current penalties are a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent violations.
Anderson’s bill was approved on a 8-6 vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
The panel last week endorsed similar legislation from Sens. Tommy Norment, R-James City County, and George Barker, D-Fairfax County.
The Senate already approved that measure 24-15 and it’s now moving through the House of Delegates, which already passed Anderson’s bill.
Since Anderson’s bill is likewise proceeding in the Senate, both bills appear headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk.
A spokesman for the governor said McDonnell will review the legislation when he receives it, noting he has some misgivings about the concept.
“He does continue to have concerns about beginning to list more specific activities that are prohibited while driving,” Tucker Martin said of the governor.
Safe driving advocates maintain that texting while driving is one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving a motorist can engage in.
-Julian Walker, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot