CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Despite a lot of hype about a ban on holding cellphones while driving, lawmakers didn’t pass it when they came back to Richmond on Wednesday.
Initially, lawmakers proposed an all-out ban, but after a series of changes were made to the bill over time it didn’t pass before the end of the General Assembly session. So, Gov. Ralph Northam made a change to another piece of legislation that bans drivers from picking up a phone while going through a work zone, that would make the bill apply to all state roads.
Advocates, like Janet Brooking from Drive Smart Virginia, pushed to make this happen.
“We’ve never seen such a groundswell of support for an issue,” she explained. “It is as much of a problem as impaired driving.”
The law on the road now only prohibits drivers from texting and emailing, which went into effect in 2009. Brooking says it’s outdated and difficult to enforce.
“At the time, that’s about all people did with their phones, so it may have been appropriate at that time, but very quickly that became antiquated,” she said. “Think about what the phone is doing. You know, these days it’s Facebook, Twitter.”
Yesterday, the Speaker of the House Kirk Cox ruled the Governor’s amendment was not relevant enough to the original bill.
Now, Gov. Northam has 30 days to sign the work zone cellphone ban. If he does, starting on July 1 people caught using their phone in construction areas could get a $250 fine.
According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, there were 2666 crashes in work zones in 2017. Nearly half of those had injuries.
“You’ve got people who are working very, very close to cars,” Brooking said. “People that are working in these work zones that we need to make sure stay safe.’
With such big support this year, Brooking expects lawmakers will bring back up a full handheld cellphone ban next year.