Each year, the Virginia Bicycle Federation monitors and advocates for or against 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 bills at http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/
In Virginia, it is illegal to text and drive. However, anyone can legally hold a phone and do all kinds of things with it while driving that isn’t texting. Furthermore, it’s difficult for police officers to know if someone is holding their phone and texting, or holding their phone and doing something else equally dangerous but not illegal. That is why legislators have introduced Hands Free bills or Handheld Bans every year for the past several years. That is why Drive Smart Virginia has worked so hard to educate people about the importance of Hands Free, testified to committees, and helped craft language that everyone can support.
The Hands Free bill succeeded in House and Senate committees and passed overwhelmingly on the floor of both Houses the past two years, only to be defeated in conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. In fact, last year, a single phrase was amended onto one version to force it into conference where it was defeated!
This year, once again, identical versions of the bill are in the House and the Senate and flying through the committees.
HB874 and SB160 are the House and Senate Hands Free bills. Other House Hands Free bills, HB512, HB387, HB1672, and HB377, have been rolled into HB874 and other Senate Hands Free bills, SB136 and SB944, have been rolled into SB160 so that there is only one Hands Free bill in the House and one in the Senate and they are identical. HB874 reported from the Transportation Subcommittee (8-0) and the full Transportation Committee (19-3). SB160 reported from Transportation Committee (12-3) and the Senate floor (33-7) and has been referred to the House Transportation Committee.
I generally don’t hold much hope for other bills that are relevant to bicyclists and pedestrians, because historically they just don’t get enough support to overcome a sort of baseline opposition to any bill that occurs – call it inertia. But I would love to see automated speed enforcement because it is consistently cited as enormously effective in reducing traffic crashes that result in serious injuries and fatalities! HB1442, with HB1721 and HB621 rolled in, reported from Transportation Committee (13-8) and a similar bill in the Senate, SB759, has been referred to the Transportation Committee.
Also interesting are HB1644, which prohibits passing a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk (because the pedestrian in the crosswalk may be hidden from view by the vehicle that is stopped), and HB1705, which changes “yield” to “stop” for pedestrians in a crosswalk. HB1644 reported from Transportation Subcommittee (9-0) and HB1705 reported from Transportation Subcommittee (7-0). These bills do not have sister bills in the Senate. If they pass the House floor they will crossover to the Senate.
On the Senate side, SB437, the Vulnerable Road User bill increases from a minor traffic infraction to a Class 1 misdemeanor a traffic violation that results in injury or fatality to a vulnerable road user such as a pedestrian, bicyclist, person in a wheelchair, motorized skateboard or scooter, etc. It also prohibits motor vehicles from using the bike lane to pass traffic stopped or slowed in the travel lane. Senator Surovell has introduced a Vulnerable Road User bill every year for a while. Senator Surovell is also the sponsor of SB160, the Hands Free bill. SB437 reported from Transportation Committee (10-5) and the Senate floor (25-15).