December 5, 2017




Mt. Vernon, VA – Senator Scott Surovell today introduced SB 74 which prohibits driving while operating a mobile phone unless it is being used in “hands free” mode.  Sen. Surovell introduced the same bill last year and attempted introduction in 2015 after similar legislation was voted down on the floor of the Senate. 

Senator Surovell has been a leader on distracted driving during his service in the General Assembly.  In 2013, Senator Surovell (then a state delegate) partnered with Militia, Police, and Public Safety Subcommittee Chairman Delegate Ben Cline on House Bill 1360 to make texting while driving a primary driving offense.[1] That bill was ultimately passed and became law in July 2013.

That legislation was motivated by the death of 18 year-old Fairfax County resident Kyle Rowley who was killed by a distracted texting driver on Route 7 near Herndon after a driver stuck his vehicle without breaking at full speed with 1000 feet of straight clear road leading up to Mr. Rowley’s car.  After the driver was acquitted of Reckless Driving due to texting while driving being a secondary offense, Senator Surovell represented the family in a civil proceeding and ultimately led the fight to change the traffic law. Kyle’s parents, John and Meryl Rowley have become leaders in the effort to make Virginia a hand’s free state.

Since that time, law enforcement has been critical of the legislation because it is often difficult to verify a driver’s activity with their phone or obtain a conviction absent a confession by the driver.  “It should not be legal to play Angry Birds, surf the Internet, or order food while driving,” said Senator Surovell, “passing hand’s free legislation will bring us into conformity with our neighbors in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and fourteen other states that have prohibited driving with a phone in hand.”

Virginia first prohibited texting while driving in 2009, but only made it a secondary offense punishable by a small fine.  In 2010, Fairfax County Police reported writing fewer than 50 tickets for texting while driving because of loopholes in the law and the fact that it was a secondary infraction.[2]

Since 2014, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reports 576 collisions and 283 injuries where driving texting was verified as part of the collision. [3]  In 2014 alone, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported that more than 24,000 crashes in Virginia were attributed to distracted drivers. 163 people died and 14,378 were injured in these crashes.[4]  In 2015, The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reported that 3,477 people died and 391,000 were injured in distracted driving accidents nationwide.[5]

Also, for the first time in decades traffic fatalities were up in 2015 and 2016 compared with prior years.  “Drivers distracted by mobile phones are hurting and killing more and more Virginians every year along with causing millions in property damage that drives up insurance premiums,” said Senator Surovell.  “All anyone needs to do to know there is a problem is look to their left or right while driving in traffic.  Finding a driver looking at their phone is not hard in this state,” said Surovell.

Distracted driving is also on the rise. In 2015, State Farm Insurance found that accessing the internet while driving had more than doubled. Furthermore, most tens admit that they will occasionally text and drive.[6] In a 2013 survey by AT&T, 49% of adults also admitted to texting while driving.

A 2006 study found that drivers using a cell phone exhibited greater impairment than intoxicated drivers.[7] According to AAA, 80% of traffic accidents in Virginia are related to distracted driving.[8] In Fairfax County, distracted driving rose 239% from 2006 to 2011.[9]

The bill text is attached.  The legislation includes exceptions for public safety personnel, use of phone based music or navigation applications provided the phone is mounted in the vehicle, and certain radio operators.


Senator Scott A. Surovell represents parts of Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford Counties since 2015. Prior to his time in the Senate, Surovell served six years in the House of Delegates. Surovell lives in Mt. Vernon area of Fairfax County with his wife and four children. He maintains an active law practice, including traffic defense and personal injury.


Attachment: Bill Text


Offered January 10, 2018

Prefiled December 1, 2017

A BILL to amend and reenact § 46.2-1078.1 of the Code of Virginia, relating to hands-free operation of handheld personal communications devices in motor vehicles; exceptions.


Patron-- Surovell


Referred to Committee on Transportation


Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That § 46.2-1078.1 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

§ 46.2-1078.1. Use of handheld personal communications devices in certain motor vehicles; exceptions; penalty.

A. It 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 within the device nor to any caller identification information unless the handheld personal communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice and hands-free operation and the device is being used in that manner.

B. The provisions of this section shall not apply to:

1. The operator of any emergency vehicle while he is engaged in the performance of his official duties;

2. An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped;

3. The use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning systems (GPS) or wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system; or

4. The use of a handheld personal communications device for purposes of navigation or generating audio transmission, provided that such device is physically mounted to the vehicle;

5. The use of a citizens band radio;

6. Vehicles used or operated by federally licensed amateur radio operators (i) while participating in emergency communications or drills on behalf of federal, state, or local authorities or (ii) to provide communications services to localities in the Commonwealth for public service events, including marathons, footraces, or activities authorized by the Department of Transportation or the locality in which the event is being conducted;

7. An operator who activates, deactivates, or initiates a factory-installed feature or function on the vehicle; or

8. Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency.

C. A violation of this section is a traffic infraction punishable, for a first offense, by a fine of $125 and, for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of $250.

D. For the purposes of this section, "emergency vehicle" means:

1. Any law-enforcement vehicle operated by or under the direction of a federal, state, or local law-enforcement officer while engaged in the performance of official duties;

2. Any regional detention center vehicle operated by or under the direction of a correctional officer responding to an emergency call or operating in an emergency situation;

3. Any vehicle used to fight fire, including publicly owned state forest warden vehicles, when traveling in response to a fire alarm or emergency call;

4. Any emergency medical services vehicle designed or used for the principal purpose of supplying resuscitation or emergency medical services relief where human life is endangered;

5. Any Department of Emergency Management vehicle or Office of Emergency Medical Services vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or operating in an emergency situation;

6. Any Department of Corrections vehicle designated by the Director of the Department of Corrections, when (i) responding to an emergency call at a correctional facility, (ii) participating in a drug-related investigation, (iii) pursuing escapees from a correctional facility, or (iv) responding to a request for assistance from a law-enforcement officer; and

7. Any vehicle authorized to be equipped with alternating, blinking, or flashing red or red and white secondary warning lights pursuant to § 46.2-1029.2.

D. E. Distracted driving shall be included as a part of the driver's license knowledge examination.


[1] “HB 1360 Reckless driving; using a handheld personal communications device, penalty.” LIS. 2013.

[2] Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Interactive Traffic Safety Report Generator.

[3] Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. “Thousands of Virginia Crashes, Injuries Due to Inattention.” 2015.

[4] Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. “Thousands of Virginia Crashes, Injuries Due to Inattention.” 2015.

[5] National Highway Traffic Safety Association. 2015.

[6] Bridgestone Tires. “Bridgestone young driver survey results, 2014.” 2014.

[7] Strayer, D., et al. “A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver.” 2006.

[8] AAA. “Orange Cones. No Phones.” 2013.

[9] Caitlyn Byrnes. “Distracted-driving ticketing on rise in D.C. area.” The Washington Examiner. 2011.