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Gov. Northam amends bill to ban drivers from holding communication devices

(Gov. Ralph Northam)
(Gov. Ralph Northam)
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RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) -- Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he has amended a bill that would make holding a communications device while driving illegal.

Senate Bill 1768 currently would prohibit drivers from holding the device in highway work zones, but the amendment would expand the hands-free legislation to be a statewide law.

"The time has come for the Commonwealth to implement an effective and fair law to combat distracted driving," said Governor Northam. "Too many families have lost loved ones as a result of a driver paying more attention to their phone than to their surroundings. This bill, as amended, will be a significant step forward in promoting traffic safety across the Commonwealth."

The amendments direct the state to annually report on all citations issued pursuant to this act as well as the relevant demographic data of each person cited to ensure that this law is enforced appropriately.

Additionally, organizations like DRIVE SMART Virginia and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, will help to develop training and educational materials for law enforcement agencies and the public.

AAA sent a letter to the governor last week asking to expand the language of the bill to enforce hands-free cell phone use on all roads.

DRIVE SMART Virginia issued a statement Tuesday after the announcement thanking the governor for "taking action against distracted driving."

"Virginia’s traffic fatalities have risen every year since 2014," said Senator Monty Mason. "Distracted driving caused by cell phone use, whether it’s dialing, texting, or checking email, is clearly the reason. I’m proud to be a part of a safety measure that will undoubtedly save the lives of many Virginians."

Crash statistics from the DMV show more than 26,000 crashes involved a distracted driver in 2016; 14,656 people were injured and 208 tragically lost their lives as a result of distracted driving.

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles cited the top three distracted driving categories as the following:

  • Eyes Not on the Road
  • Looking at a Roadside Incident
  • Cell Phone/Texting

DRIVE SMART said they are ready to help develop and provide education to the public regarding the provisions of this act prior to its enactment date.

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The General Assembly must pass the amendment on April 3 for it to become law.

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