Virginia may ban handheld use of cellphones while driving

Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban the handheld use of cellphones while driving.

Traffic fatalities in Virginia have been on the rise in recent years, thanks in large part to the prevalence of distracted driving. As WVEC News reports, lawmakers are looking to tackle the problem by potentially banning the handheld use of cellphones when drivers are behind the wheel of their cars. The bill, if passed, would mean Virginia would become the 16 th state with such a ban in place. While there is some evidence that prohibiting handheld devices while driving can lower distracted driving accidents, safety experts caution that hands-free devices may not be a safe alternative.

The need for tougher laws

As in most of the country, traffic fatalities have been surging in Virginia in recent years. From 2016 to 2017, for example, traffic deaths in the state rose by 11 percent, reversing what had been a decades-long decline. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous use of cellphones has been singled out as one of the likely reasons for the alarming uptick in fatalities. The National Safety Council, for example, estimates that at least a quarter of all traffic deaths are attributable to distracted driving.

In response to such alarming numbers, Virginia lawmakers are currently considering House Bill 181, which would ban the handheld use of cellphones behind the wheel. If passed, the bill would impose a fine of up to $500 on offenders. Drivers would still be allowed to use hands-free devices. Currently 15 states have bans on the use of handheld devices while driving.

Is hands-free really safer?

There is plenty of support for the bill. For one, police complain that the current law against texting and driving is difficult to enforce since it is hard for them to distinguish between when a driver is texting or just talking on their phones. A complete ban on holding a phone while driving would be easier to enforce, they contend. Furthermore, most states that have banned the handheld use of cellphones have subsequently seen declines in traffic fatalities.

However, while most agree that more needs to be done to tackle distracted driving, they say it may be wrong to send the message that hands-free devices are a safer option than handheld devices. As Scientific American reports, many studies have found that hands-free devices are in fact just as distracting for drivers as handheld devices are. That's because hands-free devices still put demands on drivers' attentions, so even if they are looking at the road they are thinking about something else. As a result, reaction times for drivers who text are twice as long as those who don't text at all, regardless of whether they text with their hands or through voice commands .

Personal injury help

Driving is not getting any safer, especially with so many motorists distracted by their phones and other devices. Anybody who has been hurt in an accident that may have been caused by a distracted driver should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can assist injured clients in a number of ways, including by potentially helping them pursue additional compensation if their accident was the result of another driver's alleged negligence or recklessness.