“Hands Free Driving Law” Doesn’t Make the Cut

There are over 120,000 traffic collisions reported in the state of Virginia each year. In fact, according to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, there is a new motor vehicle-related collision every 4 minutes. This unfortunate statistic resulted in nearly 900 fatalities in 2017 alone. Fortunately, Virginian lawmakers are paying attention.

Traffic collisions can occur for a variety of reasons: distracted driving, driving under the influence, fatigued driving, etc.  But there is one factor that has greatly contributed to the rise of accidents and accident-related injuries in the United States: cell phones. For a variety of reasons, drivers young and old struggle to keep their eyes and hands phone-free.

Under current Virginia law, negligent drivers can enjoy a legal loophole that allows them to utilize smartphone apps and social media platforms while operating a vehicle – they just can’t be caught typing a text or email. State law enforcement officials find this policy challenging to enforce because it’s hard to prove that a driver is actively texting while driving. As Ashland Police Chief Doug Goodman explains, “The current law requires the officer to be almost as distracted as the person who is texting in order to enforce that law because you have to drive down the road and watch the digits or numbers being entered.”

To reduce the number of traffic fatalities in Virginia, state lawmakers devised a legislative effort to legally prevent drivers from engaging in hand-held phone use. Over 15 states have already implemented similar laws to stellar success. Advocates of this proposal claim that 13 of these states have witnessed a 16% decrease in the annual number of traffic fatalities in just the last two years.

According to bill sponsors Sen. Richard Stuart and Del. Chris Collins, this legislative effort would expand “the prohibition on using a handheld personal communications device while operating a motor vehicle to all uses unless the device is specifically designed to allow hands-free and voice operation and the device is being used in that manner.”

Unfortunately, this legislative effort died in the General Assembly after House and Senate negotiators failed to reach a compromise. They initially agreed to pass the law with the sole caveat that drivers can still use their phones for hands-free calls so long as they don’t read texts or manipulate data. Ideally, this compromise would make the existing law easier to enforce. The House later rejected this concession in a 45-50 vote because the proposed changes altered the original intent of the bill. Certain delegates were also concerned that the law would encourage police to engage in racial profiling when making arrests or issuing citations. Dedicated legislators may have scrapped this plan, but they haven’t given up. Lawmakers are already devising a new strategy to modify the distracted driving statute in preparation of the 2020 General Assembly.

Injured in a Car Accident? Rely on Experienced Legal Representation

Countless Virginians are injured or killed in preventable traffic collisions each year. While this law may have been DOA, advocates and lawmakers aren’t giving up the fight. You can also do your part by practicing safe driving habits, respecting your fellow drivers, and voting on any measures that support driver safety.

However, a driver can take every safety precaution and still be injured by the actions of a negligent driver. In such a situation, it’s imperative that you retain qualified legal representation as soon as possible. Many accident survivors struggle both physically and financially in the aftermath of a collision. At The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller, our Virginia Beach personal injury lawyer can help you recover compensatory damages that cover your existing and projected medical expenses, lost wages, and more.

Legal assistance is only a phone call away.  Contact The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller at (757) 517-2942 to schedule a free consultation.

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