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Virginians- Say NO to criminalizing use of cellphones while driving

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Virginia voters: A movement is afoot in the Virginia state legislature to criminalize all use of cellphones and smartphones for any reason other than phone conversations, thus criminalizing not only texting, but even using a phone’s GPS software, playing music, or dictating a memo.

Here is the currently-proposed language:

§ 46.2-853. Driving vehicle that is not under control.

A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a vehicle which that is not under proper control or which that has inadequate or improperly adjusted brakes on any highway in the Commonwealth.

"Driving a motor vehicle that is not under proper control" includes driving a motor vehicle on any highway in the Commonwealth while simultaneously using a handheld personal communications device for any purpose other than verbal communication.

In Virginia, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail, a fine up to $2500, and suspended driving up to six months. This is serious business. 

Moreover, banning cellphone and smartphone use for any reason other than phone calls will provide one more reason — in addition to such factors as driving without a seatbelt — for police to stop drivers under the pretext of a moving violation, but with the actual purpose of seeing whether the person is driving drunk or has contraband in the car. Passing this cellphone criminal ban will provide police with further unbridled discretion about whose car to stop — and how is a cop going to know that a person is using a cellphone, let alone for permitted rather than prohibited reasons — and, to an extent, for how long. Too many police already engage in racial profiling in deciding which cars to stop — including stops for driving while black (and, more frequently, driving while a young black male), and we should not expand such unbridled discretion in a state that had statutorily-mandated racial segregation right into the Sixties (and would have continued the segregation beyond the Sixties had the U.S. Supreme Court not put a stop to it).

The 2013 legislative session is fast approaching. Please tell your state delegates and senators to vote NO on criminalizing cellphone use while driving. Please urge other Virginia voters to do the same.

ADDENDUM I: A Virginia delegate whom I know, who is supporting legislation to make such cellphone/smartphone use (other than phone conversations) jailable reckless driving, pointed to studies showing a large percentage of car collisions caused by texting while driving. I respond: The proposed statute deals with much more than just texting while driving. Does the data on the correlation between texting and collisions eliminate minor collisions that cause little to know physical injury? How reliable and unbiased are the studies and their data? Instead of criminalizing such behavior, the legislators can amend the personal injury laws to allow for punitive damages for collisions caused by texting while driving. One colleague suggested not criminalizing any smartphone/cellphone use if a collision does not result; I simply oppose any criminalization of such activity as inviting excessive extra intrusion by police and the police state.