2019 Legislation makes highway work zones safer

In new legislation for 2019, the Virginia General Assembly adopted Senate Bill 1521 allowing state troopers to use handheld photo speed monitoring devices to catch vehicles going at least 12 mph over the speed limit in highway work zones, and Senate Bill 1768 which prohibits drivers from holding a communications device in highway work zones. Defined as a construction or maintenance area that is located on or beside a highway and is marked by appropriate warning signs with attached flashing lights or other traffic control devices indicating that work is in progress, these work zones are especially dangerous to VDOT workers and construction contractors.

SB 1521 allows the VSP to mail a summons to the owner or renter of the vehicle with a fine of up to $125.00. The bill permits only officers employed by the VSP to use speed cameras, and the trooper must be present in the work zone, with patrol vehicle’s blue lights flashing. Signage alerting drivers that speed cameras are in use must also be posted.

Earlier this year, Governor Ralph Northam proposed amendments to SB 1768 that would expand this hands-free legislation to be a statewide law. However, Northam’s proposal was viewed as “not germane to the original legislation related only to work zones.” The General Assembly had already failed to pass a broad hands-free driving bill earlier this year. Gov. Northam has approved the underlying bill banning any person while driving a moving motor vehicle in a highway work zone to hold a personal communications device with a mandatory $250.00 penalty beginning July 1, 2019. That will be in addition to existing law that bans texting behind the wheel.

Virginia first enacted legislation to discourage texting while driving in 2009. Additional actions were taken in 2013 and 2014 to stiffen penalties for distracted driving while including the topic as part of the driver’s license knowledge examination. Beginning on July 1, 2018, Virginia began to punish any driver who is convicted of texting while driving in a highway work zone. The legislation does not apply to operators of emergency vehicles, drivers lawfully parked or stopped, the use of GPS systems, or anyone using a handheld device to report an emergency.

According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, people who drive distracted are 23 times more likely to get into an accident. Keep your eyes on the road and avoid those distracting activities while driving throughout the Commonwealth and help keep all roadways safer in Virginia.