New texting-while-driving fines, hybrid vehicle tax take effect - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

New texting-while-driving fines, hybrid vehicle tax take effect in Virginia

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Federal safety officials have long recommended all hand-held cell phone use by drivers be banned. That is what lawmakers in Maryland and the District have done.

Virginia has taken another step in that direction with hefty fines, but easy outs for drivers who get caught.

Texting and driving has been against the law in Virginia, but now it's a primary offense - meaning police can stop and ticket you for texting and driving and for no other reason.

"I consider it dangerous and distracting," says Angela Mumeka, "and I'm glad they're finally doing something about it."

It will cost you $125 for a first offense. $250 if you are caught again.

"I'm sure it's a primary cause of accidents all the time," says Cara Bachenheimer, a parent of teenage drivers. "You can't look out the windshield and do a text. It's hard enough to walk and text."

But here is the catch: it is still legal to talk on your phone while driving in the Commonwealth and messing with your GPS is okay, too. You just can't send text messages - even when you are stopped at a light.

"I think it's worse than being drunk," says Bernard Spaulding. "Because drunk, you're looking - everything's a haze. But when you're down staring at your lap, you don't see nothing."

Also starting Monday, Virginians who own a hybrid car are getting taxed $64 a year. That move by Virginia lawmakers is getting bad reviews from hybrid car owners Suzanne Cleary and Ron Brandt.

“There must be somebody who thinks this is a good idea," says Mr. Brandt. "But I don't know who they are."

"It doesn't make sense," says Cleary. "Especially when the federal government has given incentives for people to buy a Prius or other hybrid cars. I can't see that it makes sense at all. I think this law should be repealed."

That is just what a state senator from Alexandria says he is going to try to do come next January.

"We have a 45-day legislative session," says Sen. Adam Ebbin, a Democrat. "There's some things we do well in 45 days and there are some things we do poorly in 45 days. And this is one of the things that the General Assembly did extremely poorly."

The tax for hybrid car owners was to be $100 a year, but was knocked down to $64 as a compromise.

As for that loophole in Virginia's new texting-while-driving ban, state police say if you claim you weren't breaking the law because you were making a call or using your GPS, they can still ticket you for reckless driving, no matter what you were doing.

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