Del. Howell’s conflicting mobile phone ban.

Del. Algie Howell has introduced HB1659: Wireless telecommunications devices; prohibits use of while driving except in an emergency. The proposed addition to the state code is:

Except in an emergency, it shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle, bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any wireless telecommunications device, whether handheld or otherwise.

So the function of Howell’s bill is to bar using mobile phones while driving a car. That’s pretty straightforward. But the preamble (I think it’s called the “title,” oddly enough) to the bill itself says:

A BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding a section numbered 46.2-1078.1, relating to use of wireless telecommunications devices for text messaging while operating certain vehicles.

(My emphasis.) Though I can’t speculate as to what’s going on here, nor can I speculate as to Del. Howell’s intentions for the bill, I do find interesting the question of what the result of this law would be. My assumption is that the dicta at the head of the bill would be ignored, since the bill makes quite clear what text is to be added to the code (as bills must). But I’d be curious to hear from any attorneys or denizens of the legislature who might know how these cases are handled.

The good news is that this bill has just been introduced— committees exist in order to sort out problems like this before they become law.

12/30 Update: Chris Piper writes:

[T]hose summaries (not titles) are typically written by Legislative Services. While the patron has the right to edit or even totally rewrite the summary, they usually don’t. This error looks like an issue with the same folks who “fixed” the Blue Laws a few years ago.


[T]his is a glaring error that would easily be fixed in committee with a substitute. It could be possible that it pass as is. If it did, the summary is not printed in the Code Commission’s final copy of the Act, so it would never make it into the law anyway.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

23 replies on “Del. Howell’s conflicting mobile phone ban.”

  1. Please, Will. Godwin’s Law doesn’t usually show up in the very first comment.

    Studies have shown that people’s attention is significantly diverted from driving while they are talking on a cell phone, so much so that it is akin to driving while intoxicated. Their awareness is significantly decreased and reaction time is slowed significantly. This isn’t about fascism. This is about public safety and insurance rates and the fact that I don’t want your car ending up in my backseat or anyone else’s because you were too self-important to pull over.

  2. That’s all true, but why do we need additional laws on this? I’m not an expert on traffic law, but I think there are already laws to cover bad driving, such as reckless driving or failure to pay full time attention. If we’re worried about common behavior on the highways, why not an anti-makeup application rule, or no eating while driving rule, etc… My point is that we don’t need a specific rule to cover every specific kind of behavior behind the wheel. There’s plenty of existing law to cover bad behavior behind the wheel

  3. Y’all are missing the point here. The point is that the bill is advertised as doing one thing when the actual substance of it does something else altogether. That is a serious problem with a piece of legislation regardless of its possible merits as policy.

  4. I wonder if Del. Howell or his legislative aide drafted the preamble while the Division of Legislative Services drafted a slightly different law? Or perhaps someone else is having a similar bill drafted by DLS and some of the language got copied over?

  5. What could be wrong with hurtling down the public byway at 95 feet/second in a 3-ton metal box while you text ur bff? I’m certain that there is a Constitutional protection for this Liberty.

  6. So much for using OnStar for getting directions.

    I can understand banning texting. I can even understand requiring any cell use to be hands free. But banning all cell use?

    Next up, no talking to passengers while driving. And keep to your side of the chair. DON’T MAKE DEL. HOWELL COME BACK THERE! She’ll turn this thing around!

  7. Makes me wanna be a Libertarian. Leave us the f@#$ alone you f@#$%&* a@#%^les, as Blago might have put it.

  8. Having been rear ended on Preston Avenue while stopped at a red light by a man who would not even get off his cell phone after he hit me until a colleague (male) approached him and having nearly been killed by a woman in a van on 250 who was talking on her cell phone and also didn’t stop after the near miss, I am heartily in favor of this bill. They will fix the title etc., but I expect it won’t pass because too many legislators use their cell phones while driving to Richmond–at least that’s what someone told me who would know :) Fascism? Really? Are seat belt laws fascist too?

  9. Will, those laws protect you, even if you disagree with them. I hardly think that throwing the spectre of fascism repeatedly will further this debate, or really solve anything.

    I think these laws protect those who (in the case of smoking laws) would rather not die from exposure on the job.

    But I guess lung cancer is probably fascist too.

  10. I was previously unaware that the wearing of a seatbelt was functionally and morally equivalent with the wearing of a yellow star. The more you know…

  11. Friend, you equate seatbelt laws with a system of government rooted in authoritarian nationalism. While I suppose I could see how you might think that law (or any law) is authoritarian in nature, insofar as it recognizes a legal authority, I’m still unclear on how it’s advancing any sort of nationalist agenda on behalf of the all-important State.

    So I smile sitting here while I read that you think it’s the rest of us who don’t understand fascism.

  12. Like most good Republicans, the commenter has nothing to say other than disparaging remarks. No analysis (unless fascism is an attempt) and no discussion of the subject at hand makes for a boring comment.

    And one that is inherently a toss-away.

  13. I don’t like this bill at all. The unintended consequences are ridiculous.

    For instance, let’s say I create a GPS system that also uses telecommunications information from other owners of my product to determine traffic conditions, routing people through the fastest paths instead of the shortest? Would such a device be construed as a telecommunications device? The bill specifically points out that even handless devices would be held accountable.

    This technology already exists, and I believe it is called the Dash. What I think is so fascinating about it is that the creators prefer to think of it as a modified cellphone than a GPS system.

    Another issue is how you would implement such a bill. Is it simply that a cop can cite you -after- pulling you over for another offense? If this is the case, it would theoretically be quite easy to end your call while they walk up to the vehicle. The cop can then potentially prove your guilt by seizing your phone and searching its call logs, but that may hit on privacy concerns (not sure) and also requires that our police officers know about lots of operating procedures for a wide variety of phones and phone OSes.

    If this is not the case, then a cop can pull over someone they see on a phone. At this point my guess is a lot of cops will either never pull over a person in this circumstance, or only do it when they present an obvious danger to other citizens, at which point they have other tools at their disposal for this purpose. However, assuming they do pull them over, they then are the arbiters of deciding what constitutes an emergency, and whether or not that person was lying, putting undue pressures on them.

    I understand the intent behind this legislation, but I wonder if it is required. While the “cell phone talking=intoxication” argument is accurate, I think the comparisons stop there, especially in terms of how to treat the problem.

  14. I believe ol’Will is intent on staying drunk and kicking the dog all the way to the the swearing in of the 111th Congress and the inauguration of Barack Obama. After that I expect we’ll just receive regular lectures relating the Inherent Superiority of the Conservative Way…and other such demonstrable nonsense. Not really the kind of thing you want to hear when you’re mucking those conservative “results” out of the barn.

  15. Why stop there? Let’s ban txt msg altogether. And mobile phones while we’re at it. Hell, let’s ban all comm devices.

    Who are the sages that know where to draw the lines? You? Our elected representatives? Please.

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