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Traffic Safety Advocates Commend Governor, Lawmakers for Passage of Ban on Handheld Personal Communications Devices while Driving

Governor Ralph Northam Holds Virtual Bill Signing Ceremony Today

Richmond, VA (Wednesday, July 8, 2020) - Traffic safety advocates celebrated a substantial victory today in the fight to save lives on Virginia roads that would otherwise be lost at the hands of distracted drivers. Governor Northam will host a ceremonial bill signing at 9:00 A.M. today for HB874/SB160 which will prohibit any person from holding a handheld personal communications device while driving in Virginia as of January 1, 2021.  The measure was championed by Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) and Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) and supported by members of the Virginia Partners for Safe Driving, including DRIVE SMART Virginia, AAA Mid-Atlantic, and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. The current law, passed in 2009, only forbids texting and emailing while driving and is difficult to enforce.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that close to 3,000 lives have been lost in in recent years due to districted driving and has identified the issue as a crisis. Manipulating a phone while driving increases a driver's crash risk by a staggering percentage because it involves all three kinds of distraction – manual, visual, and cognitive.  “Taking your eyes off the road to dial a cell phone or look up an address and send a text increases the risk of crashing by 600 to 2,300 percent," said Rich Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).  80% of all crashes and 65% of all near crashes involve driver inattention within 3 seconds of the crash. (VTTI)

DRIVE SMART Virginia created and leads the Virginia Partners for Safe Driving , a group of nearly 100 organizations that helped to push the legislation through. “Our goal is to reduce injuries and fatalities on the roadways of Virginia,” said Janet Brooking, DRIVE SMART Virginia Executive Director. “Distracted driving has been identified as a leading causative factor, and hand-held phone use is the most pressing issue due to the cognitive, visual, and manual distractions involved. We commend our elected officials for taking a strong stand against distracted driving.”

The new law is critically needed, according to AAA, due to an ongoing disconnect between what drivers report they believe to be dangerous distracted behaviors behind the wheel when exhibited by other drivers, and what they actually do when driving. In 2019, a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety - Traffic Safety Culture Index survey revealed that even though 97 percent of drivers say texting/emailing while driving is a serious threat to their safety, 45 percent admit to having read a text or email while driving in the past month, and 35 percent admit to having typed one (national results). In Virginia 93% reported being concerned about their safety due to others being distracted by electronic devices, yet only 18% report using hands free technology while driving according to AAA's poll, even though texting while driving was already illegal in Virginia. “AAA research shows a clear disconnect. Drivers are afraid of others using hand held devices YET they continue to use them. That disconnect is dangerous. AAA believes that the new law in Virginia will help to reduce preventable tragedies on the roadways of the Commonwealth,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. 

Currently, 24 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving, all of which are primary enforcement laws meaning that police can pull and cite a driver for using a handheld cellphone without any other traffic offense taking place. (Governor's Highway Safety Association) In 2017, of the 15 states plus the District of Columbia (“D.C.”) that had enacted “hands-free” laws, 13 of these states saw an average 16% decrease in traffic fatalities within two years after passing and enforcing their new laws, according to the Georgia House Study Committee on Distracted Driving.

Law enforcement plays a critical role in making the new law effective. From public education to enforcement, police will help save lives.  Dana Schrad, Executive Director of the Virginia Chiefs of Police and Partners member said, “Officers across the Commonwealth have shared stories of serious and fatal crashes due to distracted driving. We look forward to having a strong law on the books to provide citizens with an understanding of what is safe and not safe when driving a motor vehicle,” said Schrad. “We too commend all those who worked tirelessly to pass this important law.”

While the new law became law on July 1, the General Assembly required six months of education and public awareness and a delayed enactment date of January 1, 2021. Beginning January 1, 2021 fines for a first offense will be $125, and second and subsequent offenses $250.

The City of Richmond banned the use of hand held communications devices as of June first this year. The new state-wide law will bring consistency to all localities.

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AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 60 million members nationwide and more than one million members in Virginia.  AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years.  AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android.  For more information, visit www.AAA.com.
  
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MEDIA CONTACTS:

AAA Mid-Atlantic
Martha Meade
Manager, Public and Government Affairs
(804) 543-7190

DRIVE SMART® Virginia
Janet Brooking
Executive Director
(804) 929-6117

Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police
Dana Schrad
Executive Director
(804) 338-9512