RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says he wants a “strict” new ban on holding cellphones while driving, saying tough new laws are needed to cut down on fatal accidents.
“Anytime people pick these up and it puts them at risk, it puts other people at risk,” Northam said.
The governor also wants to ban any open containers of alcohol in cars and to require all car passengers to wear seat belts. He made the comments Monday while touting a list of transportation-related items he wants state lawmakers to pass this year, including creating a new Virginia Passenger Rail Authority to boost train travel and raising the state gas tax to fix roads.
The proposed cellphone ban is likely to be one of the governor’s most heavily debated transportation-related proposals.
State law already makes it illegal to text or email on a cellphone while driving. Lawmakers almost passed a law banning the use of handheld personal communication devices last year, but the effort fell apart over a disagreement about whether drivers should still be able to use smartphones for actual phone calls while driving.
Northam tried to resurrect the measure at the last minute but was blocked by then-GOP House Speaker Kirk Cox.
With his fellow Democrats now in control of both the House and Senate, Northam is bullish on the ban passing this year along with other safety measures. Northam was joined by the top two Democrats in both chambers Monday to highlight his transportation proposals.
“These are common-sense measures that will save lives and keep our keep our highways safe,” Northam said.
Northam’s legislation also would allow localities to lower speed limits in certain areas to below 25 mph (40 kph) and to allow the use of speed cameras on stretches of highway where there have been a large number of accidents.
The governor is also proposing to increase the state’s gas tax by 4 cents a gallon for the next three years, and then tie future increases to inflation.
Supporters of the idea said state desperately needs the extra revenue from a gas tax to fix some Virginia roads that are crumbling with neglect.
“I mean some of these streets look like something you’d expect to see in Syria,” Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said.
Northam’s proposed transportation overhaul has made rail traffic a priority in a bid to help ease northern Virginia’s notoriously bad traffic. He recently announced a a $3.7 billion effort to boost passenger rail service between the state and Washington, D.C., that includes building a new bridge across the Potomac River.