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Bills Banning Handheld Cell Phone Use While Driving Move Forward


Bills that prohibit handheld cell phone use while driving passed the Virginia Senate and House Tuesday morning.

The identical bills being approved by both chambers almost ensure it will become law starting in 2020. Although texting while driving is already illegal, the bills will require drivers to put their phone on their center console or use hands-free technology if they want to use GPS or play music.

Senator Richard Stuart of King George is one of the sponsors of the bills. Stuart said he opposed a similar law in past years, because he was concerned it limited personal freedoms.

“But it’s become apparent to me that those other folks who are so engrossed in their phones and completely oblivious to the world around them are now imposing on others individual freedoms,” he said.

The bills passed the Senate 34-6 and the House 69-27.

Senator Mark Obenshain spoke in opposition to the bill on Tuesday, saying that the bill does not encompass the full scope of behaviors that could distract drivers.

“If I’m driving down the road holding a cup of coffee, I’m doing nothing wrong, but if I’m driving down the road and take my phone out of my pocket, even just to put it down, I’ve violated the law,” Obenshain said.

He also raised concerns about giving police expanded probable cause to pull over drivers simply for holding their phone. That worry has come up in the past, particularly how the law could affect minority communities. An amendment to the senate bill would require the state government to compile yearly demographic data for who is cited under the new hands-free law.

Violators of the law would face a fine of $125 dollars for a first offense and $250 a second time.