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Bill seeks to ban holding cellphones while driving in Virginia

Current law prohibits reading or typing messages on a personal communications device while driving. However, holding such a device is legal, except while driving in a work zone.

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By Andrew Ringle

Karen Giles was proud of her 30 years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, her daughter said, until she was killed last February when a dump truck driver looked down at his phone to text a friend about a Valentine’s Day gift.

Giles’ daughter, Meredith Spies, said she now forgives that driver. But in a press conference on Tuesday, she also said the current sentencing guidelines are not harsh enough.

“We need to put our phones down,” Spies said. “And we need a punishment in place that will take over the need to eat, the need to put on your Chapstick, the need to answer that notification.”

Spies spoke in support of House Bill 874, currently being considered in the Virginia General Assembly. The bill would prohibit holding a handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle. San Diego personal injury attorneys pointed out that in 2015, there were an estimated 660,000 drivers operating their vehicles using a cell phone.

Current law prohibits reading or typing messages on a personal communications device while driving. However, holding such a device is legal, except while driving in a work zone.

The bill’s sponsor, Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, called the resolve of Spies and others who are pushing for legislation to prevent distracted driving “truly inspiring.”

“Too many people are being affected, being killed, being harmed,” Bourne said. “Families are being tormented by distracted driving and those accidents that result from that.”

Last fall, Richmond City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to ban using mobile devices while driving. A bill hoping to curb distracted driving in the 2019 General Assembly session passed the Senate but failed in the House. If HB 874 can make it out of the House and Senate this session, then a signature from Gov. Ralph Northam would make the same policy statewide law.

“We want to make sure that everyone is safe and that distracted driving goes down rather than up,” Bourne said.

Richmond Police Chief Will Smith said during the press conference that his department supports  HB 874 and that anyone with children shouldn’t be surprised by the proposal.

“One of the very first things that we all talk about with our kids is, ‘make sure that you leave your phone out of your hand and don’t text, don’t call until you get to your destination,’” Smith said. “Yet we, as an adult society, tend not to obey our own advice.”

Smith said there were over 1,000 accidents involving distracted driving in the city last year, up from 950 in 2018. He said the ordinance passed by City Council last year mimics HB 874.

“We see this as a very positive opportunity to improve the safety of our traveling public, those who are pedestrians on our sidewalks and our cyclists in the streets,” Smith said.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said during the press conference that using phones while driving has become an epidemic. It’s currently legal to drive and use a phone to play “Angry Birds, or while browsing the internet,” he noted.

Surovell believes HB 874, now at the hands of the House motor vehicles subcommittee, has a strong chance of becoming law. He thanked Bourne for his support of similar legislation over the past four years.

“While I certainly can’t tell the future,” Bourne said, “I’m very, very confident that at some point in 2020, we’ll all be together again, watching the governor sign this bill into law.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Arts & Entertainment

Photos: Faces of a Parade

We took some traditional parade photos but have decided to go a little more intimate and focus on the faces you see during the Dominion Christmas Parade.

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Downtown

Virginia launches expanded rail service from Richmond to Washington and New York City

The Amtrak Northeast Regional Route 51 now offers early morning service from Main Street Station, getting travelers from Downtown Richmond to Washington when the workday begins or to New York for a lunchtime meeting.

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Recently, Governor Ralph Northam and Secretary Valentine joined DRPT and the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) to launch expanded rail service from Richmond to Washington and cities along the Northeast corridor. The Amtrak Northeast Regional Route 51 now offers early morning service from Main Street Station, getting travelers from Downtown Richmond to Washington when the workday begins or to New York for a lunchtime meeting.

The new train is the first expansion of service under Governor Northam’s Transforming Rail in Virginia program to significantly expand rail infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth. The event ended with a ribbon-cutting and the inaugural train heading out of Main Street Station at 5:35 am with the Governor, state officials, and DRPT/VPRA staff on board. Early ridership numbers indicate healthy demand for the extended service.

The Transforming Rail in Virginia initiative is already receiving recognition throughout the country for its role in changing the future of transportation. At the District of Columbia’s Committee of 100’s bi-annual award ceremony, DRPT received a 2021 Vision Award recognizing the Transforming Rail in Virginia Program. Director Jennifer Mitchell accepted the award on behalf of DRPT, Governor Northam, and the Virginia General Assembly.

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Community

Shockoe Illuminates Throws the Switch Tonight

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Shockoe Illuminates will be Dec. 3rd at the 17th Street Market. They’ll have local artisans with one-of-a-kind presents, boozy hot drinks provided by amazing restaurants, kids activities, carolers, roller skating, and more! Loads of information at the 17th Street Market Facebook.

 

Did you catch that there is roller skating?

We don’t need ice to have fun and skate! During Shockoe Illuminates on Dec. 3rd you can roller skate and then come back all weekend for more fun! $10 to rent skates or bring your own.
  • 12/3 5:00-9:00
  • 12/4 4:00-8:00
  • 12/5 3:00-7:00

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