RICHMOND, Va. -- Numerous injuries and even deaths related to distracted driving prompted Richmond City Council members to ban drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.
City Council voted unanimously on Monday evening to ban the use of handheld communications devices (cell phones) while driving, a measure proposed by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
The ban is considered a primary offense, which would be punishable by a $125 fine on the first offense and a $250 fine for each subsequent offense.
Stephanie Jefferson, a driving instructor at A Metropolitan Driving School on East Parham Road, called the ban "a good thing."
"We know the distractions that we have as a driver can be inside the vehicle or outside the vehicle," Jefferson explained. "It takes your focus away from the driving task and that’s what makes it so scary."
About 400 students each year are taught vital driving lessons at Jefferson's school, which has been in operation for decades.
"They’re really strict on the SOL's [Standards of Learning] and distracted driving is an SOL," she stated. "We know those distractions are monumental when it comes to accidents."
The ordinance, which was introduced at the October 14 council meeting and was recently amended, is an attempt to curb traffic fatalities and promote pedestrian safety.
Distracted drivers have killed or injured 218 people in the City of Richmond so far this year, according to the Richmond Police Department.
Drivers, however, can still use hands-free devices in conjunction with their cell phones. A driver will be allowed to use their phone while stopped at a traffic light or parked, according to the ordinance.
The ban will go into effect in six months to allow for an education period ensuring drivers are aware of the change in traffic law.
The ordinance allows for exceptions for public safety personnel and drivers experiencing emergencies.
“It’s just not acceptable to use a cell phone while driving when we know the dire consequences,” said Mayor Stoney. “With this ban, Richmond sends a clear message: whether you’re texting or not, put down the phone, or there will be consequences. I hope the General Assembly will send the same message this year.”
Jefferson believed future technology will help keep the streets safer.
"Somethings you can do on the steering console. Going forward you’re going to have to rely heavily on the technology of your vehicle to do what you need to do, because they don’t want you to have that phone in your hand," she said.
Public testimony prompts changes:
Brad Hughes knows the cost of distracted driving.
On Monday night, the former police officer spoke before Richmond City Council members, recounting the day, five years ago, when a truck driver lost control on an icy road in Chesterfield County, pinning him between two cars.
"It hurts me every single day when I drive across that bridge knowing this could have been avoided," Hughes said Monday. "The result of that accident, I ended up losing both of my legs. All of this would have been changed if that driver had just been paying attention."
His words did not fall on deaf ears, as the council voted unanimously to ban drivers from using a handheld communications device while driving within city limits.
While similar legislation has failed to pass the General Assembly, advocates like Patty Kruszewski hope Richmond's ordinance will prompt new statewide legislation and make it easier for officers to enforce current texting laws.
Kruszewski's daughter, Lanie, was killed on River Road while biking home from work seven years ago.
"Lanie was the type of loving human being the world needs more of, but her life was cut short by someone who chose to amuse himself by texting while he drove."