State lawmakers target texting while driving

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ROANOKE CO., Va. (WDBJ7) Roanoke County Police Sergeant Raymond Torres says texting while driving can be hard to quantify.

But officers and experts on transportation safety know it's a problem.

"We do know that when you take your eyes off the road for just five seconds, it's the equivalent of being intoxicated," Torres told WDBJ7.

The legislation now making its way through the General Assembly redefines the offense, as the bill's sponsor Delegate Christopher Collins explained in a Senate Committee.

"It's a very difficult law to enforce,"Collins told fellow lawmakers, "because if you pull somebody over and say I think you were texting and they say I was not texting I was Facebooking, that is not a crime."

The legislation would prohibit the use of any device that causes a "substantial distraction" from operation of the motor vehicle.

"They can be looking at movies," Sgt. Torres added, "They can be looking at pictures, all of the social media apps out there. So people aren't so much always looking at the messages, they could be looking at pictures. They could be sending a picture. They could be videoing themselves. There are a million things they can be doing that has nothing to do with a text."

Critics have raised concerns, including how an officer would judge "substantial distraction."

The bill has passed the House. The Senate could approve the change as soon as Friday, sending it on to Governor Ralph Northam.