Governor Ralph Northam is able to revive the hands-free driving legislation that failed to be approved by the General Assembly last month. He has the power to amend a bill (SB1768) that the legislators did pass that prohibited holding a cellphone while driving in a highway work zone and require another vote.
The hands-free bill, which had garnered strong bipartisan support, appeared ready for passage in mid-February. But, opponents arguing that the bill should focus on distractions such as texting rather than phone conversations added a last-minute amendment that would have permitted drivers to hold their phone using the speakerphone. This change risked creating loopholes that undermined support for the bill from advocates who preferred a simpler enforcement standard where if a phone was in a driver’s hand, it was a violation of the law. Concerns about the law’s effectiveness and its enforcement also prompted opposition by civil libertarians. Some feared that the legislation could be used by law enforcement for pretextual stops.
The General Assembly reconvenes April 3 to consider the governor’s amendments and vetoes. You can contact the Governor’s office to register your views here.