Virginia House Bill 22, sponsored by Delegate Algie T. Howell Jr. (D-Norfolk), aims to ban all use of “handheld personal communications devices while operating a motor vehicle.” While I am sure he has the best intentions, and believes his is promoting public safety, this bill would do little–if anything–to make Virginia drivers safer.
Much like seat-belt requirements and speed limits, this bill will do little other than create a newly exploitable revenue stream for local governments. It will likely have little impact on drivers’ habits unless it is rigorously enforced–which is unlikely at best as it would cause Virginian’s to question the priorities of their law enforcement officers. Furthermore, the bill provides a solution to what is largely a non-problem. While it is true that cell phone use may sometimes present a safety concern, most people know when they should and shouldn’t be chatting. Furthermore, an indiscriminate ban fails to acknowledge that cell phone use can be helpful in the correct circumstances. As an example, tired drivers may rely on casual conversation to maintain awareness during the final leg of a long trip.
The ban could also have negative effects on law enforcement, particularly the highway patrol. Since only passengers would be legally allowed to contact the Highway Patrol from a moving vehicle, it could subconsciously justify a solo driver’s choice to ignore roadside emergencies. In order to provide even the most minimal assistance by confirming a report, a solo driver would now be required to pull off of the interstate to make the call, a time-consuming, unnecessary inconvenience.
I’m certainly not advocating for driving and phone use to become synonymous, but most people have more common sense than Mr. Howell is granting them. Lawmakers should be focused on limiting dangerous driving, not passing a one-size fits all policy that will do little, if anything, to improve safety on our roadways.