Virginia Considers Ban On Driving While Texting

Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax) has sponsored a bill to prohibit text messaging while driving. Four other states are considering such bills.
Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax) has sponsored a bill to prohibit text messaging while driving. Four other states are considering such bills. (The Washington Post)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 12, 2008

RICHMOND, Jan. 11 -- Some Virginia lawmakers want drivers to take their thumbs off the keyboards and put them back on the steering wheel while cruising down Virginia's roads.

They are tackling the problem of drivers who send, read and write messages on cellphones, PDAs and BlackBerrys. It's a thoroughly modern distraction dubbed Driving While Texting or DWT.

The General Assembly, which began its 60-day session Wednesday, is considering a pair of bills that would ban texting while driving a car, bicycle, motorcycle, moped or even an electric wheelchair. Lawmakers in four other states, including Maryland, are considering similar proposals.

Virginia legislators have tried in recent years to ban handheld cellphone use by adult drivers but have not been successful. A year ago, they made it illegal for teenagers under 18 to talk, send text messages or snap photos with a cellphone while driving, but they can be cited only if they are stopped for another offense.

This year, supporters say they hope to push a bill that forbids at least some cellphone use, now that drivers are doing more than just talking behind the wheel.

"I frankly did not even realize that one could do that and drive,'' said Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax), who sponsored one of the bills. "But I learned quickly from my younger daughter, who assured me that it's very easy to do."

Lawmakers in several states are trying to keep up with the latest driver-distraction phenomenon by banning texting, or prohibiting all cellphone use, while driving.

In Maryland, where lawmakers also convened this week, Sen. Michael G. Lenett (D-Montgomery) has introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of hand-held phones by all drivers. Another proposal may be on the way that would cover only texting.

Texting is safety advocates' latest worry about driver distractions, which include eating, grooming and reading newspapers. Safety experts say the practice is even more prevalent in affluent, urban places such Northern Virginia, with its extensive cellphone service.

"It's sort of the issue du jour right now,'' said Matt Sundeen, a transportation analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks bills across the nation. "I'm sure we'll see more this year."

Six states considered anti-texting laws in 2007; Washington state and New Jersey passed laws, as did the city of Phoenix. Five other states and the District prohibit drivers from using hand-held phones while driving.

Virginia and Maryland have considered an outright cellphone ban for adult drivers almost every year since at least 2001. Maryland banned cellphone use for teens with learner's permits in 2005, and Virginia made it illegal for drivers younger than 18 in 2007.

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