Each year, the Virginia Bicycle Federation watches for bills that might affect bicycling and walking in Virginia, bills that could make it safer and easier or more dangerous and difficult to bicycle and walk. RIDE Solutions reports on the bills that the Virginia Bicycle Federation is watching. This article is for informational purposes; RIDE Solutions neither endorses nor opposes proposed legislation. You can find more information and track these bills at http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/
HB181, a ban on using handheld devices while driving, came so close to becoming law this year! HB181 cleared the Courts of Justice Committee, the most difficult committee in the House. It passed the House floor and cleared the most difficult committee in the Senate, again called Courts of Justice Committee. When it came up to the Senate floor, some senators expressed concerns that this traffic infraction law could be abused as so many traffic infraction laws have been when law enforcement targets minorities. HB181 was amended to require law enforcement to track tickets issued under this law, to address this concern.
The amendment created new concerns, about how much this would cost. Is it another unfunded mandate imposed on police? After much debate, the amendment was accepted and HB181 passed the Senate floor.
The problem is, the House had already considered and rejected that particular amendment. When HB181 returned to the House for reconciliation, the House unanimously rejected the Senate version (96 to 0). And the Senate overwhelmingly insisted on the amendments (34 to 4). The bill went to conference committee, but the committee was unable to compromise.
Personally – and I will reiterate that this is my opinion and does not reflect any organization I’m affiliated with, neither RIDE Solutions nor Virginia Bicycle Federation – I had mixed feelings about HB181. I’m not a fan of changing behavior through punishment (or incentives). To reduce traffic fatalities and injuries, we need to do two things:
- Design our roads so that human mistakes don’t kill people, whether the mistake is due to impairment, distraction. Even responsible drivers who aren’t impaired or distracted or sleepy can make mistakes. I am the most careful driver I know and I have made mistakes when driving. Each time that happens, I feel relieved and awful at the same time – relieved that nothing bad happened, but awful because something bad could have happened.
- Reduce our reliance on driving along by managing parking. It is not possible to make buses, bicycles, and walking as attractive as driving as long as we have surplus free parking everywhere we go. The acreage devoted to parking lots spreads out destinations so that it is impractical to walk, no matter how beautiful the sidewalks are that line the empty parking lots. If we want to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries, we should end parking minimums and tax urban land value rather than property value. Roanoke City has no parking minimums in their downtown, which is a step in the right direction. Many states do not allow urban land use tax.
I’m not against HB181. If it passed, I think it could save a few lives. It does have that potential for abuse, but solving that with an unfunded mandate introduces another problem. When each solution to a problem introduces a problem that requires another solution that introduces another problem, ad infinitum, we should consider other solutions.
Thank you for following along this year’s legislative updates! I always enjoy learning about the many ways that bills can die – and watching the rare bill that makes it through. Distracted driving bills are popular these days, so I expect to hear more about them next year.