Northam amends hands-free driving bill, calls to ban use of handheld devices while driving

Posted at 11:42 AM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 04:59:56-04

RICHMOND, Va. - Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday morning that he is amending Senate Bill 1768, expanding the legislation to make it illegal to use handheld devices while driving.

“The time has come for the Commonwealth to implement an effective and fair law to combat distracted driving,” said Northam. “Too many families have lost loved ones as a result of a driver paying more attention to their phone than to their surroundings. This bill, as amended, will be a significant step forward in promoting traffic safety across the Commonwealth.”

The current legislation sponsored by Senator Monty Mason would only prohibit drivers from holding a communications device in highway work zones.

Some drivers in Hampton Roads say the amendment is unrealistic.

“That’s a lot to ask of everyone. I don’t think it’s going to work out. I don’t think people will follow it," said Sydney Urwin.

However, others think it's a great way to help save innocent lives. Shallynn Roney is from Suffolk and believes that safety comes first.

“That text message can wait, that phone call can wait, I can wait till I pull over to answer that or respond. It’s not that important," said Roney.

Related: Virginia General Assembly bans holding cellphones while driving

According to Northam's office, these amendments direct the state to annually report on all citations issued pursuant to this act as well as the relevant demographic data of each person cited to ensure that this law is enforced appropriately.

Northam's office added that these amendments direct various organizations—including DRIVE SMART Virginia and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police—to develop training and educational materials for law enforcement agencies and the public.

Byran Marangoni is the chairman of DRIVE SMART Virginia. He says other states are seeing positive results with the "hands-free" law.

“Georgia just passed this, and this is their first year in seeing a reduction in the fatalities there along with the distracted driving - it’s down in that area," said Marangoni.

“Virginia’s traffic fatalities have risen every year since 2014,” said Mason. “Distracted driving caused by cell phone use, whether it’s dialing, texting, or checking email, is clearly the reason. I’m proud to be a part of a safety measure that will undoubtedly save the lives of many Virginians.”

In 2018, Northam created the Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety, which he hopes will build on his administration’s goal of reducing or eliminating deaths on the Commonwealth’s roadways.