TRAFFIC SAFETY hit a roadblock when the General Assembly failed to ban motorists from holding cellphones while driving. During the reconvened session on April 3, Gov. Ralph Northam sought to amend a bill that would ban the use of hand-held devices by motorists in highway work zones and make it a statewide prohibition.
The amendment easily cleared the state Senate 34–3 but died in the House of Delegates. As expected, House Speaker Kirk Cox, R–Colonial Heights, said the governor’s amendment was not germane to the underlying bill. The work zone ban now returns to the governor for action.
We are disappointed that the statewide ban failed. Distracted driving is on the rise and a growing threat to highway safety. Next time you’re in a car—as a passenger—look around at the other drivers. Chances are you’ll see motorists holding or fiddling with a cellphone and not looking at the road.
Distractions kill, and the numbers bear this out.
As we reported last week, when we called on the legislature to pass the statewide ban, one out of five traffic crashes in the state in 2016 involved a distracted driver. That’s according to 2017 Virginia Traffic Crash Facts, which is put out by the Department of Motor Vehicles and is the most recent information available. Almost one in four of all traffic fatalities that year were related to distracted driving. The top three distracted driving categories, according to DMV, are eyes not on the road, looking at a roadside incident and cellphone/texting.
“There is an urgent need to make Virginia roads safer by addressing distracted driving, and Governor Northam will continue to work with legislators on this important issue,” gubernatorial spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky emailed in a statement.
During the regular session, proposals calling for a statewide ban easily cleared both the House and the Senate. However, the measure died in the session’s closing hours as the legislation got mired in a conference committee. Northam attempted to resurrect it through his amendment.
So for the time being, Virginia will not be joining 16 other states—including neighboring Maryland and West Virginia—as well as Washington, D.C., in banning motorists from holding cellphones while driving.
“It was a really sad day for traffic safety,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Yes, we will be back again next year. You can’t be on the roadways and not see this every day. We’ll have at least another year of completely preventable deaths.”