Holding a phone while driving could soon be illegal in Virginia

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VIRGINIA (WJHL)- A proposed bill in Virginia would make it illegal to hold your phone while driving.

The General Assembly is expected to take on the issue when lawmakers return to Richmond in January. The proposal comes after past hands-free bills have failed.

Last session, lawmakers passed a bill that prohibited drivers from holding their phone while going through construction zones.

Current Virginia law also bans people from sending and reading text messages and emails.

Sen. Scott Surovell (D-D36), who is sponsoring the hands-free bill, said in a recent press conference that these rules don’t go far enough.

“It’s technically legal to play Angry Birds while you drive, to chase Pokemon while you drive, to cruise the internet while you drive, read tweets or Facebook while you drive,” he said.

Abingdon Police Chief Tony Sullivan said the current law is almost impossible to enforce.

“You can park anywhere at any red light and just sit and watch people with their heads down,” he said. “The investigatory capabilities for us to say ‘hey what were you doing’ just aren’t there.”

Sullivan said he was disappointed when Virginia lawmakers failed to pass a more comprehensive hands-free law last session.

Twenty-one states, including Tennessee, already have laws on the books banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

Since Tennessee’s law took effect in July 2019, the Tennessee Highway Patrol alone has issued more than 74 hundred citations statewide. In the “Fall Branch” district, which encompasses Northeast Tennessee, there have been 726.

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department said they’ve issued 9 citations in the same time period.

“People don’t change behavior unless they suffer consequences,” Sullivan said. “I mean when people cross into Tennessee you don’t see them with their phones in their hand anymore or at least not as much.”

Under the current bill, a driver would be fined $125 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses.

A driver who is “lawfully parked or stopped” or using a phone to report an emergency would not be subject to a fine.

The bill will first have to clear the Senate Committee on Transportation.

If passed, it will take effect in January 2021.

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