Editor's Note: The following was submitted as a Letter to the Editor by Andrew Flusche, Attorney at Law. It is unedited.
Delegate Cline pre-filed a texting while driving bill on December 4 that repeals the current Virginia ban against texting while driving. Cline’s bill replaces that narrowly tailored law with a dangerously broad addition to Virginia’s thirteen different types of reckless driving.
The bill, HB 1360, would make it a class 1 misdemeanor for anyone caught “driving a motor vehicle on any highway in the Commonwealth while simultaneously using a handheld personal communications device for any purpose other than verbal communication.”
The proposed bill dramatically broadens the prohibited acts and punishments for offenders.
The current Virginia texting while driving law, Virginia Code 46.2-1078.1, only covers people who “enter multiple letters or text” or “read any email or text messages” on their mobile device. Under the existing statute, texting while driving is a secondary offense, which means an officer must have an additional reason to stop a driver in order to write a ticket for texting. The maximum punishment for even a second offense of texting while driving is a fine of $50.
Reckless driving convictions are on the same level of offense as a DWI. Convictions can carry a fine up to $2,500 and/or jail up to one year. Reckless driving convictions can also entail license suspension for six months.
Instead of only prohibiting entering text or reading email and text messages on mobile devices, Cline’s proposed bill prohibits “using” a mobile device except for verbal communication.
This dramatic expansion of Virginia’s reckless driving laws could turn any driver with a smart phone into a criminal. Many safe and legitimate smart phone uses would be criminalized under the law, including streaming internet radio and using a phone for GPS navigation.
Broad laws pose a critical danger for all citizens, since they can be applied in unforeseen, unjust ways. Instead of simply strengthening the existing ban on texting while driving, Cline has labeled many citizens as criminals for streaming Pandora while safely commuting to work.
Andrew Flusche, Attorney at Law
- I wrote the book on reckless driving defense, while defending traffic and misdemeanor charges in the Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Spotsylvania area. You can request a copy of my free book, "Fight Your Virginia Reckless Driving Ticket" at www.NotReckless.com.
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