Roads funding, texting penalties top AAA legislative agenda
Safety and transportation funding continue to top the Virginia legislative efforts of AAA Mid-Atlantic, an advocate for motorists for over 100 years, and this year the funding crisis giant continues to stare down lawmakers as they seek to break a 20 year deadlock to adequately fund Virginia’s infrastructure.
“The traffic fatality data is going the wrong way, serving as a reminder that safety gains are not inevitable and that continued legislative action is necessary to help improve safety on our roadways, ” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in December released estimates that traffic deaths increased by 7.1 percent in the first nine months of 2012 versus the same period the previous year.
The estimated rate of deaths also increased, from 1.09 to 1.16 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In Virginia, traffic deaths increased from 572 to 594 in the first nine months of 2012 compared to the same time period in 2011, up nearly 4 percent.
AAA 2013 Legislative Agenda
Transportation Funding: It was over a quarter of a century ago that Virginia had a long-term and sustainable transportation funding mechanism – the gas tax. Today the value of that tax has eroded by more than 50%, while the cost of building new roadways has dramatically increased. Several years from now Virginia will have only enough money for road maintenance. Adequate infrastructure is critical for not only the quality of life for Virginians but also for the economic vitality of the commonwealth. AAA will push once again this year for additional funds for transportation and for a constitutional amendment to protect these transportation funds. “Providing adequate transportation funding is the responsibility of our elected officials. The critical need for transportation monies which has faced 20 plus General Assembly sessions in Virginia is not going away now or ever unless just one group of lawmakers can find a way to address it,” said Meade.
Penalties for Texting and Driving: With AAA’s support, Virginia became one of the first dozen states in the nation to ban texting while driving in 2009. The law, while a major step forward, now needs to be strengthened as a driver cannot be pulled over simply for texting and, if convicted for the offense, the punishment is nothing more than a slap on the wrist as Virginia’s current law defines texting while driving as only a minor traffic offense, punishable by a maximum fine of just $20. AAA will support making the offense fall under the reckless driving statute.
Primary Enforcement Regarding Seat Belt Use, Texting While Driving, and the Use of Electronic Devices by Provisional Licensees: Laws which deter dangerous behavior are much more effective if they are enforceable, according to AAA. In Virginia, wearing a seat belt, texting while driving, and driving while talking on the cell phone as a teen are all actions which are against the law but for which drivers cannot be pulled over by the police. AAA will fight in 2013 to make all of these offenses primary laws, thus making drivers safer and the roadways safer for all motorists.
Teen Driver Safety: Teen drivers are at the greatest risk of all drivers on Virginia roads. Therefore, the safety of these drivers remains a major priority for AAA Mid-Atlantic. Graduated driver licensing (GDL) is one of the most effective means of reducing teen driving deaths. While Virginia’s GDL laws are strong, there is room for further improvements involving nighttime and passenger limits, as well as the number of practice hours required. Strong support will be given to effective legislation which deters dangerous behaviors by teens, the most at risk group of drivers.
Open Container: AAA Mid-Atlantic strongly supports a ban on open containers of alcohol in the passenger side of motor vehicles. Such a ban would reduce the negative and deadly impacts of drinking and driving. Virginia is one of just seven states without an open container law.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI): In 2012, with the help of AAA and other safety organizations, a law passed which requires a mandatory ignition interlock be installed in a first time DUI offender’s vehicle as a condition of a restricted license. While this was a strong step forward, AAA will support mandated ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers.
Motorcycle Helmets: AAA Mid-Atlantic opposes efforts to repeal the current mandatory motorcycle helmet law in Virginia. While repeated attempts have been made in the past for such a change, AAA Mid-Atlantic believes that this life-saving measure is an important one which protects Virginians from incurring increased medical expenses for the long-term care of critically injured, un-helmeted riders.