The Virginia Legislature is vetting a number of bills that would implement harsher texting while driving laws.
Last week, the house passed a bill (HB 1907) that increases the fine for the first texting-while-driving offense to $250 upon conviction, and $500 for each subsequent conviction. The current fine is $20.
The bill passed the House in a 92-4 vote, and was unanimously supported by the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday. Del. Barbara Comstock, who represents McLean, is a patron. The bill is currently being vetted by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
The legislation would make texting while driving a primary offense, which means police can stop someone just on the suspicion that a driver may be texting at the wheel. As it stands, police can only issue texting-while-driving fines if the driver is first pulled over for another violation.
The bill also makes texting while driving an aggravating circumstance to reckless driving, and people convicted would face a mandatory minimum $500 penalty if they were texting while they were driving recklessly.
Another bill, HB1357, would also change texting while driving or reading email on a cell phone from a secondary to a primary offense. It received wide bipartisan support and was incorporated into the first texting-while-driving.
"As a secondary offense, texting while driving is punishable only if a driver is stopped for committing some other offense with it, like speeding," said sponsor Del. Tom Rust., R-Herndon, in a press release. "On its own, texting while driving is a reckless behavior, and committing another reckless, dangerous act shouldn’t be required to stop the first."
The state Senate has passed a similar bill. On Wednesday, a House subcommittee unanimously recommended the bill with amendments back to the full Courts of Justice Committee for consideration.