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Virginia legislators fail to agree on banning phone use while driving

(KOTA)
Published: Feb. 7, 2018 at 4:57 PM EST
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UPDATE (Mar. 12):

Virginia lawmakers couldn't find agreement this year on bills that would have banned some cellphone use while driving.

The House and Senate had passed measures with different restrictions but could not agree on changes as the 2018 session came to an end Saturday.

That means the current law banning only text entry will stay in place.

The measure that passed the Senate would have banned all hand-held cellphone use behind the wheel. The House version was much narrower, specifically banning phone use "where such use substantially diverts the driver's attention from the operation of the vehicle" and making exceptions for using a GPS, reporting emergencies, or for first responders.

Maryland and the District of Columbia already ban hand-held phone use by drivers. Virginia would have joined them with a similar law.

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If you're guilty of texting and driving, this is for you.

Two bills that were proposed in the General Assembly aim to penalize phone usage while driving.

One of those –

– was killed by a subcommittee, however. It would have expanded the current law against "manually entering multiple letters or text in a handheld communications device while operating a motor vehicle" to also include prohibiting reading any information displayed on the device.

It included an exception for information meant for the purpose of navigation, but eliminated an exemption that allows drivers to use a cell phone while driving if the vehicle is stopped or not moving.

, however, is advancing through the House of Delegates after passing the Courts of Justice subcommittee with a 15-3 vote.

If passed, it would prevent drivers from using their phones while operating a vehicle "where such use substantially diverts the driver's attention from the operation of the vehicle."

This law would replace the one already on the books banning texting and driving in Virginia.

Although lawmakers want drivers to put the phones down while driving, there are some instances where phone usage would be allowed.

The ban originally would not apply when reading a GPS, but that section was struck when a new version was printed on February 5. You can read the bill

It would also allow drivers to use their phones when the vehicle is stopped.

Phones could also be used by people operating emergency vehicles, such as law enforcement or department of corrections drivers.

Drivers would also be permitted to use phones behind the wheel if reporting an emergency.

Any driver in violation could be charged with "improper driving," which is currently primarily used as a charge when reckless driving gets reduced in courts.

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