Virginia’s Poorly Written Cell Phone Ban

The Commonwealth of Virginia recently passed a ban on text messaging and emailing while driving. The first time a cop catches you emailing away on your Blackberry, its a $20 fine. After that, it’s $50 a pop. Plus court costs. A pretty weak deterrent when compared to Maryland’s $500 fine for first-time offenders.

But more importantly than that is how poorly written this law is. Here’s what the statute says:

§ 46.2-1078.1. Use of handheld personal communications devices in certain motor vehicles; exceptions; penalty. A. It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to: 1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in the device nor to any caller identification information.
B. The provisions of this section shall not apply to:
1. The operator of any emergency vehicle;
2. An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped;
3. The use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning systems (GPS) or wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system; or
4. Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency.
C. No citation for a violation of this section shall be issued unless the officer issuing such citation has cause to stop or arrest the driver of such motor vehicle for the violation of some other provision of this Code or local ordinance relating to the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a motor vehicle or any criminal statute.
D. A violation of any provision of this section shall constitute a traffic infraction punishable, for a first offense, by a fine of $20 and, for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of $50.

Let’s take a look at a few of the problems here:

First, the officer has to have some other reason to stop you. This isn’t all that hard to come up with – a parking pass hanging from your window, a burned out tail light, or a failure to use your signal can usually be sufficient. Still, if you’re doing everything right and texting, there’s not a thing the officer can do to you.

Second (and more importantly), the way the statute is written there are a whole slew of things you can still do on you Blackberry. Here’s a short list I came up with:

  • Write notes to myself;
  • Play chess;
  • Read the news;
  • Surf the web;
  • Take pictures of myself.

If you’re really cool and own an iPhone, you can only imagine how long that list would be.

Studies very clearly demonstrate that texting while driving is dangerous. Some studies suggest that it is just as deadly, if not more so, than drinking and driving. So let’s have our legislature step up and draft a clear law that bans doing anything with your cell phone while you’re operating a motor vehicle.

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