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McDonnell signs bill on texting while driving

RICHMOND—By July 1, texting while driving will be a primary offense, one for which police can pull you over.

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday proposed amendments to a bill creating the offense. His amendments would reduce the fines for convictions.

The bill makes it a primary offense to text or email while driving. Currently doing so is a secondary offense, which means a police officer would have to pull you over for another offense before he could charge you for texting while driving.

A primary offense means police can stop and ticket drivers for just that offense.

During the legislative session, lawmakers—including Sen. Richard Stuart of Stafford and Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania—argued against the bill, saying it was too vague and that it essentially allowed police officers to stop drivers just for looking down. They said officers wouldn’t know if a driver was texting, answering a call or using an iPod.

McDonnell’s amendments provide for training for police in how to enforce the law.

He also wants to reduce the fines; the bill originally called for a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said McDonnell urges motorists to refrain from all distracted driving. He said McDonnell supports making texting while driving a primary offense but wants to make the fines more comparable to penalties for DUI and reckless driving.

McDonnell has also proposed to amend a bill placing a two-year moratorium on drone usage in Virginia. His amendments make exceptions for law enforcement to use drones—unmanned aerial aircraft—to search for missing people or in emergency situations. He would also exempt universities “or other entities engaged in research and development of this and related technology.” His amendments ask the Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop guidelines for drone usage by police.

McDonnell had until midnight Monday to sign, amend or veto bills. He was not expected to announce his actions on the transportation bill or other high-profile legislation until close to the deadline. Lawmakers will return to Richmond April 3 to deal with his amendments and vetoes.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028