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Teen Death Leads To Virginia Bill Targeting Distracted Drivers

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A proposed bill in Virginia targets distracted drivers.
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A proposed bill in Virginia targets distracted drivers.

Kyle Rowley was on his way home on a Sunday night in 2011 when he ran out of gas. So the 19-year-old flipped on his flashers and began moving the car out of the road. That's when a driver who was on his cell phone crashed into the teen, killing him instantly.

Carl Rowley, the teenager's father, was shocked to find out what happened to the driver who killed his son.

"Since he wasn't speeding and he had no alcohol, there was no basis to charge him even though it was obvious that he wasn't paying attention because it was a straightaway, it was well lit, and he never put his brakes on," Rowley says. "But the law just doesn't have the ability to do that -- at least, not yet."

After the criminal charge for reckless driving was dismissed, the Rowleys began working with Scott Surovell, an attorney who represented the family in a wrongful death lawsuit that was settled out of court. Surovell is also a Virginia delegate, and he has now introduced House Bill 1360, which would classify driving while simultaneously using a handheld communications device for something other than verbal communication as reckless driving.

"Watching dozens of people texting on my way to work every day on the Beltway, and having seen what happened where Kyle Rowley was killed, and couldn't be punished, I've come to the position we need to do something," says Surovell.

Carl Rowley says he was initially reluctant to get involved with legislation that won't bring back his son.

"He was a real good kid," says the elder Rowley. "We really miss him, but what are you going to do? That's one of the reasons I'm not so gung-ho about this whole process because there's nothing we can really do for him anymore. But it's important that something is done."

But Meryl Rowley, Kyle's mom, sees the legislation as a possible legacy for her son.

"As Carl said, we can't bring Kyle back," she explains. "But we can send a harsher message that texting while driving is becoming a national problem."

The legislation would make texting while driving a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.

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