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Virginia To Crack Down On Texting While Driving

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Texting while driving may soon yield drivers a $250 fine for a first offense.
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Texting while driving may soon yield drivers a $250 fine for a first offense.

Virginia lawmakers voted to crack down on drivers texting while behind the wheel, but Gov. Bob McDonnell has some concerns before he signs off on the bill.

For years, lawmakers have tried to make it a primary offense to use a mobile phone while driving. They were blocked by others, who argued that reckless driving laws can cover infractions, as well as by those who did not want police to peer into cars and invade privacy.

Dele. Rich Anderson, the bill's sponsor, says the dangers posed by drivers who are texting are too great to leave the problem unaddressed.

"Because of the impaired driving that results from texting, it has the same effect as if you're severely intoxicated well beyond the legal range of intoxication," Anderson says. "So therefore it does, in fact, affect other people, up to and including death. And so for that reason, we needed to address it."

Under the bill passed this legislative session, police can pull over and charge a driver who is seen texting.  Anderson says it imposes a $250 fine for a first offense, and $500 for subsequent ones. This stands in contrast to existing law, where motorists can be fined $20 if an officer observes a driver texting while pulling him over for another reason.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the governor still has reservations.

"The governor will review this legislation when we receive it. However, he does continue to have concerns about beginning to list more specific activities that are prohibited while driving."

The bill also makes it unlawful to read emails and text messages or to manually enter multiple letters or text. That means no e-mailing, tweeting, or posting on Facebook, either.

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