January 9, 2013

The fact that distracted driving is hazardous is now well understood. As a result of overwhelming evidence that indicates distracted driving plays a role in a significant number of auto accidents, state and federal legislators are under increasing pressure to treat distracted driving behavior as a serious traffic violation.

In Virginia, the state’s crime commission recently endorsed legislation aimed at defining texting while behind the wheel as reckless behavior punishable as a primary offense. While the goals of this legislation may be understandable, punishing texting while driving as a reckless driving primary offense will likely make both prosecuting and defending such behavior challenging.

After all, drivers who may be using their phones behind the wheel for legitimate purposes may be singled out for suspected texting behavior. In order to defend against such accusations, drivers would have to hand over their texting and related phone records which could raise sincere concerns about privacy.

Currently, drivers in Virginia may be punished for texting while driving by being forced to pay a $20 fine, if the texting infraction is a driver’s first related offense. Making this behavior a primary reckless driving offense would make it punishable by up to a year of incarceration and a $2,500 fine.

Motorists should absolutely refrain from distracted driving. However, the proposed reforms to Virginia’s texting while driving laws are extreme and potentially endanger the privacy of law-abiding citizens who are merely accused of texting while driving. The impacts of this proposal should be carefully considered before any action is taken.

Source: CBS News, “Va. crime panel pushes for tougher penalties for texting drivers,” Tracy Sears, Dec. 5, 2012

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