Phone

In Virginia, there’s an existing ban on holding a cellphone while driving through highway work zones.

A ban on the use of handheld devices while driving may become a reality at JMU as Virginia lawmakers crack down on distracted driving.

In Virginia, there’s an existing ban on holding a cellphone while driving through highway work zones, but lawmakers said they’re determined to expand this ban to include holding a cellphone while driving anywhere in Virginia. The bill, HB 1439, still has to pass in the Senate.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the ban is already in place in 21 states and Washington, D.C. All of the bans in place are primary enforcement laws, meaning an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.

Fairfax Senator Scott Surovell (D) is the lead sponsor of the Virginia Senate bill that had similar wording to HB 1439 that passed 33-to-7 on Jan. 29. 

“Drivers distracted by mobile phones are hurting and killing more and more Virginians every year, along with causing millions in property damage that drives up insurance premiums,” Surovell said. 

According to Drive Smart Virginia, 80% of all crashes and 65% of all near-crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds of the crash. Lawmakers said they aim to decrease these numbers through legislation.

In both 2018 and 2019, similar bans were proposed but failed to pass each year. In Richmond, a ban on handheld devices while driving, which is what lawmakers are hoping to accomplish statewide, has already been approved and will be implemented this coming June. 

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is expected to support the measure; when the bill to ban handheld devices while driving through work zones was proposed last year, he added the amendment to ban it throughout all of Virginia.

The House has passed the bill 52-to-48, and the Senate is currently deliberating.

“All anyone needs to do to know there is a problem is look to their left or right while driving in traffic,” Surovell said. “Finding a driver looking at their phone is not hard in this state.”

Students Abby Snodgrass and Corinne Landrum at JMU said they’re skeptical about whether this ban will make that much of a difference, as they said they both believe people won’t care about whether there’s a ban or not.

Snodgrass, a sophomore justice studies major who’s a member of Safe Rides, said she supports the ban but doesn’t see many students caring about the consequences of the ban. 

Some criticism with the bill is that the enforcement of the bill will be difficult. Proving someone was on their phone could be challenging.

“I think it will be difficult to enforce the ban because it’s such a common occurrence that it will be hard for police to reach everyone,” Snodgrass said. 

When contacted by The Breeze, Safe Rides declined to comment.

Sophomore English major Corinne Landrum is from Richmond, and she said she doesn’t believe the ban will matter there or anywhere else in Virginia.

“I don’t think it will be enforced because most drivers are probably not aware of it either and will continue to use their phones regardless of rules, and there will be too many using their phones for the ban to be enforced efficiently,” Landrum said. “The speed limit isn’t even enforced in many areas throughout Richmond.”

According to Drive Smart Virginia, 13 states saw an average 16% decrease in traffic fatalities within two years of passing a handheld device ban.

“Law enforcement officers have more important tasks than regulating cell phone usage,” Landrum said.

Contact Eda Tercan at tercanea@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.