A young man ran out of gas one night at the Fairfax Co./Loudoun Co. border. He put his caution lights on and started to roll his car out of the roadway. Unfortunately, another driver, who had allegedly been using his phone to text while driving, hit the stranded driver and fatally injured him. The texting driver was charged with reckless driving and the secondary offense of “texting while driving”.
Fast foward to a year later. The man who was killed was represented in a wrongful death case by Virginia Delegate Scott Surovell (D – 44). The judge in the criminal and traffic case, General District Court Judge Gallahue presided over the trial. After the prosecutor rested her case, Gallahue ruled that did not have enough evidence to find the driver guilty on the statute of reckless driving. Instead, the driver was found guilty of the charge of “texting while driving”, which is an infraction in Virginia, and was sentenced to pay a fine.
Though other states have made texting while driving a primary offense, meaning a police officer can pull a driver over if they are seen texting while driving, Virginia has not jumped on that bandwagon — yet. Recently, law makers introduced a tougher penalty for the offense. Delegate Surovell, from Fairfax County, has introduced HB1360, which would classify “texting while driving” as reckless driving. Reckless driving is a class 1 misdemeanor and can result in up to a $2,500.00 fine and possible jail time. If the bill passes, police officers would be able to pull over any driver they see engaged with a handheld device (but not including talking) and issue that driver a reckless driving charge.
When questioned why Surovell doesn’t try to ban all other distracted driving behaviors, he stated that “texting while driving increased the risk of an accident by 23x. Other distractions increase that risk by 1-5x.”