Advocate remembers relatives killed in crash as new hands-free law goes into effect

Posted at 2:58 PM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 16:40:03-05

NORFOLK, Va. -- Three of Christina Dempsey’s relatives were killed by a truck driver on a highway in 2013. The cause, she said, was the driver was distracted on their phone.

"They (investigators) were also able to determine that he was not texting,” Dempsey, who is also an EMT, explained, “but per the bystanders when he exited the truck, he was on his cellphone talking."

That is why she and advocates pushed the general assembly to pass house bill 874, a bill that would prohibit people from using their phones while driving.

It was signed into law this year and goes into effect Friday, Jan. 1.

"It's heartbreaking that somebody had to be distracted long enough to injure somebody or result in killing somebody due to a crash,” Dempsey said. “It could've waited just a minute."

"Folks are just not getting the message on how important this is,” John Saunders, the Director of Highway Safety with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said. “And how devastating this is to families."

He said there were also 9,920 people injured and roughly 16,000 crashes due to distracted driving.

"These numbers that we are giving you, we believe is under reported,” Saunders said.

The new law has the following penalties: $125 fine for the first offense, and then a $250 for the second and each offense after that. Janet Brooking, the executive director with Drive Smart Virginia, said the law does allow for cellphone usage in certain circumstances – such as emergencies 00 and the use of hands-free devices.

"Whether you mount it to the windshield, or to the air vent, or down to your cupholder, absolutely,” Brookings explained.

While states like New York have passed similar laws as early as 2001, Saunders said it is never too late if it will save lives.

"Do we wish we would've gotten it earlier,” Saunders said. “I think all of us who are advocates, saving lives on our roadways, yes."