HOLMBERG: New texting-while-driving law needs a reality checker

Posted at 11:25 PM, Feb 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-22 23:29:04-05

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- A  new law awaiting the governor’s signature would make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning an officer can pull you over – as the bill states – for  typing  (texting) - on your phone to communicate with someone else, or to read a message from someone else. It would also dramatically increase the fines.

Here’s the gist of it:

A. It shall be is unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to:

1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or

2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in within the device nor to any caller identification information.

But this texting law wouldn’t keep you from doing all kinds of other distracting things with your phone, including catching up on the news, checking the stock exchange,  weather radar, checking Facebook or Twitter or writing a song about goofy new laws.

And how would the officer know what you were doing with your phone? Would he demand to see it? Check phone records? Do we really want to go there?

You know, distracted driving has been a problem since we got behind the wheel a century ago.

Kids or pets in our vehicles are well-known dangerous distractions that cause crashes.

Eating while driving, firing up a cigarette, even adjusting the radio, can take our eyes off the road long enough to lose our lives, or take someone else’s.

Rubbernecking at crash scenes is a well-known accident-bringer, as is looking at roadside attractions.

Few things are as dangerous as sleepy driving, yakking on you cellphone, or putting on makeup or hot sauce on your taco.

But none of this is against the law.

There’s no doubt texting and reading your phone is a new, powerful menace. Some initial studies indicate it may be more dangerous than drunk driving.

But this new law that enables police the pull you over, even if you’re not driving badly, would violate personal privacy without addressing the problem it seeks to solve.

Governor Bob McDonnell has signaled he may not sign this law. And he shouldn’t.

There are already two laws on the books that address distracted driving – improper driving if you’re not paying attention and reckless driving if you’re really messing up. There’s no need for new laws to turn cell phones into law enforcement weapons.

That’s my take. Please leave yours here on