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Directions in Highway Safety, Spring 2007 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Spring 2007 | Vol. 10 | No. 1

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Virginia Governor Signs Teen Cell Phone Ban, Brings Back Red Light Cameras

Young drivers will have to turn off cell phones when they get behind the wheel under legislation Virginia Governor Tim Kaine signed into law last month. The measure prohibits 16- and 17-year-olds with conditional licenses from using phones while driving. If they have an emergency requiring a phone call, the teen must pull off the road or into a parking lot.

"I believe this is a common-sense restriction on those new drivers who may be tempted to pay more attention to phone calls and text messages than the road, endangering themselves and other drivers," Kaine said. Senator Jay O'Brien (R-Fairfax) spent three years trying to get the ban through the legislature and to Kaine's desk. An increasing number of crashes involving drivers distracted by cell phones made the difference this year, O'Brien said. "Legislators have seen in their district that needless cell phone use causes senseless accidents and fatalities," he said. "You think [teens] are invincible, but they have to understand they need to hang up the cell phone when they are learning to drive."

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Governor Kaine also signed legislation allowing localities to install cameras at intersections to catch red light runners. Local governments would decide whether to use the cameras in their jurisdictions and would have to install signs within 500 feet of the intersections informing motorists of the cameras' presence. The violations are considered civil, so the transgression will not appear on a driver's record, and fines are limited to $50. "This legislation allows local law enforcement to determine if, and where, cameras might help improve highway safety," Kaine said. "The research indicates this enforcement tool will help increase traffic flow, reduce accidents and save lives."

Red light cameras will be returning to the Old Dominion state after a two-year absence. Pilot programs in Northern Virginia and in other areas were closed when the legislature banned the practice in 2005. The new law improves upon the previous red light camera law by expanding authority to use the cameras to almost every city and county in the state. Previously, only a handful of communities were allowed to use the technology. According to the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running, numerous communities throughout Virginia are likely to install cameras.