RICHMOND Adult cell phone addicts wont be charged with driving while texting, at least for now.
On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee referred a bill to ban sending text messages while driving to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science. The decision was made by voice vote, and it effectively kills the bill for the 2008 General Assembly session.
The purpose of JCOTS, which meets between legislative sessions, is to research policy-related science and technology issues. Delegate Joe May, R-Leesburg, and other members of the Transportation Committee, believe the technology aspects of the bill need more research.
May, who chairs the transportation panel, noted that before legislators last year banned teenage drivers from using cell phones, they had the joint technology commission study the issue.
When it was finished, thoroughly vetted in JCOTS, I think we ended up with what is a very, very reasonable piece of legislation, and I think its appropriate that the text messaging get the same treatment, May said.
Delegate James Scott, D- Merrifield, is sponsoring House Bill 39, which would prohibit text messaging while driving.
May mentioned a few issues with the bill. They included how to identify whether someone is text messaging, and what the policy would be when a driver is sitting at a red light. He said in a telephone interview that referring the bill is not meant to be prejudicial but a chance to improve it.
Remember, we dont have hundreds of years of precedent on this, May said.
Delegate Jeffrey Frederick, R-Woodbridge, asked Scott why he didnt seek to ban other activities such as applying makeup or eating fast food.
Scott replied, Well, I guess one could ban every possible distraction while driving, but it seems to me that this is particularly bad because it requires you to, in the main, use two hands.
He repeatedly referred to the danger of having to type out and send a text message, which he believes is more dangerous than listening. In a telephone interview, Scott said that he decided to propose the legislation after hearing several media accounts of deadly accidents involving younger drivers who had been texting while driving.
It had never occurred to me that one could do that, he said. But in talking to my younger daughter, I found out that I was terribly ignorant.
Scott said the current cell phone ban theoretically bans text messaging. However, it applies only to teenagers. While teens are a big part of the problem, Scott said, they are not the only ones who text while driving.
Margaret Meade, the manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, spoke in favor of the bill. She cited an increase in text messaging while driving, especially among younger drivers.
We have such problems with distracted driving in our nation anyway; about a million crashes every year are attributed to driver inattention, Meade said. So we truly believe this is a very dangerous activity, and we hope that Virginia will take the lead in banning it.
Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax Coalition of Police, also spoke before the committee. He said that text messaging has been identified as a particular problem but that there were concerns about how the legislation would affect emergency vehicles.
In this day and age with technology, we are responsible for receiving our dispatches in more and more localities now on computers; laptops are now in the vehicles, Thielen said.
He said it was important for people responding to emergencies to be able to use such technology and receive information updates.
Patrick Cushing, a staff attorney with the Division of Legislative Services who works for JCOTS, said the issues surrounding the bill will be researched when the joint commission meets this summer and fall. The commission will make recommendations based on its research, and the bill can be re-filed for the 2009 session.