US NEWS DISTRACTED-DRIVING DA

A man looks at his cellphone while driving in Dallas.

Legislation to ban Virginia motorists from using cellphones in their hands while driving died at the end of this year’s legislative session, but AAA is now urging Gov. Ralph Northam to amend another piece of legislation to do what the failed legislation sought to do.

The legislation that died was sponsored by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, and Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick.

The bills they filed originally would have banned anyone from holding a cellphone while driving. Current law already makes it illegal to text or email on a cellphone while driving.

The legislation was amended and then died in a conference committee when lawmakers couldn’t reach agreement on details.

AAA, which provides roadside assistance and other services to 1 million members in Virginia, is calling on Northam to amend Senate Bill 1768, sponsored by Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. That bill, which cleared the legislature by large margins, would bar drivers from holding a cellphone in their hand while driving in a highway work zone. AAA wants Northam to change the legislation so that it would apply to driving on any road.

The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association also wants the amendment.

Mason said he’d be fine with the governor amending his bill and sending it back to the legislature for consideration.

Northam has a midnight Tuesday deadline to sign, veto or seek to amend Mason’s bill. The legislature will return April 3 to take up Northam’s vetoes and amendments. If Northam amends the legislation, passage of the altered bill would require a simple majority in the House and the Senate.

Martha Meade, the manager of public and government affairs for AAA Atlantic, said in an interview Friday that 69 of 100 delegates and 34 of 40 senators initially voted for the bills before the legislation got bogged down in conference committee by opponents.

That should be a sign to the governor that the legislature would support him amending the Mason bill to ban the use of cellphones while driving unless they are used hands-free.

“This is a measure that really enjoyed tremendous support from both the House and the Senate, was well on its way to passage,” Meade said.

AAA says 63 percent of Virginians support such a move.

Northam press secretary Alena Yarmosky said by email Friday that the governor “is in the process of reviewing this legislation.”

A AAA news release noted that Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data show than 26,000 crashes involved a distracted driver in 2016, with 14,656 people injured and 208 killed.

During past attempts to pass legislation limiting drivers’ use of cellphones, some lawmakers have worried that the measures could lead to racial profiling by giving officers too much discretion about when to pull over a driver.

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