Virginia May See Stronger Texting Penalties

Crime Commission to discuss making texting behind the wheel a reckless driving charge.

The Commonwealth of Virginia may be considering stronger penalties for texting while driving.

The Virginia State Crime Commission will discuss Wednesday a draft of new legislation that would make texting while driving a reckless driving charge as well as a traffic offense, WTOP reports.

The commission makes recommendations to the General Assembly.

A Fairfax County judge ruled this year that the current texting-while-driving law precluded a reckless driving conviction against a man prosecutors said opened a text very close to the time he struck and killed a 19-year-old man on Route 7 near Dranesville in May 2011. The current law comes with penalties of $20 for a first offense and $50 for a second offense.

When the case went to trial in a Fairfax County court this year, Judge Thomas Gallahue ordered the charge against Gage dropped, his texting notwithstanding because of the 2009 Virginia law makes texting while driving a minor traffic infraction.

The penalty for reckless driving in Virginia is up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine, which is among one of the weakest penalties for the offense in the region. 

In Virginia, texting while driving is a secondary offense - police officers can only give a ticket for the violation if they pull a driver over for another reason.

In Maryland, texting while driving became subject to a $500 fine in 2011. Maryland drivers are also not supposed to talk on a handheld phone while driving, but that is considered a secondary offense.

A  Virginia bill that would have kept the lower penalties but made texting behind the wheel a primary offense passed the Senate last session, but stalled in the House of Delegates.

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