Why the Virginia text message ban isn't a great piece of legislation

On July 1, 2009 Virginia instituted a ban on text messaging while driving. Lots of headlines. Legislators thumping their chests about how they've made Virginia safer.

What nonsense--

My position: ban the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. Make it a primary offense. If a law enforcement officer sees you yapping on your cell phone...stop and arrest. Simple.

This is what we would do if Virginia was really serious about preventing death, injury and property damage.

But, we aren't that interested. So instead, we pass a meaningless "text message ban." A "ban" that can't be enforced (officer, I wasn't texting, I was just dialing--that's NOT prohibited!!!)

"Officer, I wasnt' texting...I was just reading a book!!!.. that's not prohibited either!!

Here's the statute, in case you haven't read it:

§ 46.2-1078.1. Use of handheld personal communications devices in certain motor vehicles; exceptions; penalty.

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to:

1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or

2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in the device nor to any caller identification information.

B. The provisions of this section shall not apply to:

1. The operator of any emergency vehicle;

2. An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped;

3. The use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning systems (GPS) or wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system; or

4. Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency.

C. No citation for a violation of this section shall be issued unless the officer issuing such citation has cause to stop or arrest the driver of such motor vehicle for the violation of some other provision of this Code or local ordinance relating to the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a motor vehicle or any criminal statute.

D. A violation of any provision of this section shall constitute a traffic infraction punishable, for a first offense, by a fine of $20 and, for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of $50.

Ben Glass
Ben Glass is a nationally recognized Virginia injury, medical malpractice, and long-term disability attorney