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Delegate Wants Drivers to Put Down Their Cellphones

Republican Delegate Richard Bell wants drivers to put down their smartphones and get their dog out of their lap. The delegate is re-introducing a bill requiring drivers to keep both hands on the wheel.

It’s a response to what he’s observed as he commutes around his Shenandoah Valley district.

“I’ve seen people trying to read the newspaper as they drive down the road at 80 miles an hour,” he says. “Some ladies trying to put their makeup on before they get to work. Somebody eating a hamburger.”

Traffic fatalities have been on a steady rise in Virginia since 2014, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. A total of 843 people were killed on Virginia roadways last year, up from 700 in 2014.

“Virginia State Police tell me we have a crisis on our hands,” Bell says. “And although you can’t always attribute it to distracted driving, the evidence surrounding a lot of these cases would indicate that.”

Bell says his bill offers more clarity than other distracted-driving measures by establishing a straightforward criteria for violations. He says it had support of law enforcement and EMTs during the 2018 sesion, but ultimately was squashed in a subcommittee vote.

“They’re the politicians, so I guess it was a bridge too far for them,” he says.

A second element of his bill bans pets from the laps of drivers. Bell acknowledges that the provision won’t make him popular with some pet owners, but says its related to the same problem.

“I don’t want to sound like big brother,” the longtime delegate says. “But it’s a public safety issue now.”

bpaviour@ideastations.org