Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) announced Wednesday he is proposing legislation to make texting while driving a Class 1 misdemeanor with a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Surovell, a Democrat, is teaming up with Republican Del. Ben Cline of Rockbridge on the bill.
Four months ago Surovell represented a woman whose car was rear-ended by someone texting and ended up with $40,000 in medical bills.
"This is a problem we're all paying for every day," he said in a news conference Wednesday.
Surovell, an attorney, told a story Wednesday about a client he represented. "A year and a half ago, a family's 19-year-old son [Kyle Rowley] came home from college and was driving home from Loudoun into Fairfax, at about 10:30 at night," he said.
The teen activated his flashers after he ran out of gas. As he was pushing his car off the road, he was struck from behind by a man with "2,000 feet of empty road, dry pavement, no other cars on the road," Surovell pointed out. The driver hit his client going 60 miles per hour and killed him instantly.
He was charged with reckless driving. "He was texting up until the point of impact," Surovell said.
The judge "basically dismissed the charge. He was found not guilty, not punished for anything. My clients were distraught by that."
He ruled this year that the current texting-while-driving law precluded a reckless driving conviction against the man prosecutors said opened a text very close to the time he struck and killed Rowley on Route 7 near Dranesville in May 2011. The current law comes with penalties of $20 for a first offense and $50 for a second offense.
When the case went to trial in a Fairfax County court this year, Judge Thomas E. Gallahue ordered the charge against the driver dropped, his texting notwithstanding because of the 2009 Virginia law makes texting while driving a minor traffic infraction.
In Virginia, texting while driving is a secondary offense - police officers can only give a ticket for the violation if they pull a driver over for another reason.
In Maryland, texting while driving became subject to a $500 fine in 2011. Maryland drivers are also not supposed to talk on a handheld phone while driving, but that is considered a secondary offense.
A Virginia bill that would have kept the lower penalties but made texting behind the wheel a primary offense passed the Senate last session, but stalled in the House of Delegates.