After a statewide ban prohibiting the use of handheld devices failed during a Virginia General Assembly session earlier this year, the Richmond City Council has taken matters into its own hands.
In a Monday meeting, the City Council unanimously passed a ban on using handheld devices while driving within the city limits. Set to take effect in six months, the ban will make the act punishable by a $125 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine for subsequent offenses.
According to the city’s news release, distracted drivers have killed or injured 218 people in Richmond this year.
“The ban will save lives,” says Allen & Allen attorney Christopher J. Toepp, who recently represented the family of a man who suffered a catastrophic brain injury as a result of a distracted driver. “When you see the devastating consequences distracted driving can have, you see how necessary this ordinance is.”
At this time, Virginia remains the only state in the region not to have a state-wide hands-free driving law. Twenty-one states, including Maryland and D.C. have banned handheld cell phone use while driving.
Currently, it is illegal in Virginia to text and email while driving. Specifically, it is unlawful to “manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person,” or to “read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device.” However, typing a phone number into your device to make a call while driving, holding the phone to use GPS or talking on the phone while holding it, are not forbidden under this statute.
According to Mayor Stoney, the Richmond city ban “sends a clear message: whether you’re texting or not, put down the phone, or there will be consequences.“
“I hope the General Assembly will send the same message this year,” he said.
The General Assembly reconvenes on January 8, 2020, but it is unclear if they will be discussing a state-wide initiative to prohibit cellphone use while driving. If you’re passionate about this issue, reach out to your local State Representatives to inquire about what they plan on introducing during the 2020 General Assembly Session.