RICHMOND – The General Assembly has approved a bill to make text-messaging while driving an offense punishable by a fine.
The Senate voted 33-6 in favor of House Bill 1876, sponsored by Delegate John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake. The proposal then returned to the House for a final vote, and on Thursday, delegates approved it, 88-9.
The bill now will go to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to be signed into law.
The bill contains exceptions for use of a global positioning system, for text-messaging by emergency workers, for drivers reporting an emergency and for drivers who are legally parked or stopped.
Under changes made by the Senate, texting in one’s car would be a secondary rather than primary offense, meaning an officer first must have another reason for pulling over a motorist.
Under the law, which would take effect July 1, a first offense will cost drivers $20, with each subsequent infraction drawing a fine of $50.
Cosgrove, whose bill is the only legislation regarding cell phones to make it out of the General Assembly this session, has called text-messaging while driving “extremely irresponsible and dangerous.”
Cosgrove wants drivers to utilize hands-free technology for using their cell phone on the road.
Some people view the proposed legislation as repetitive because laws against reckless or distracted driving already are on the books.
Delegate R. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, who voted against the bill in the House, called the bill “redundant.”
Others, such as Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 2008, agree.
“It’s not about safety since texting and causing an accident is already a citable offense,” said Barr, “It is about control.”
A December 2008 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that one in seven drivers either reads or sends text messages on the road.
Virginia would be the eighth state, along with Washington D.C., to ban text-messaging for drivers.
All local legislators in the Historic Triangle voted for the ban.