- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

RICHMOND (AP) — The Senate Transportation Committee yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would prohibit motorists younger than 18 from talking on a cellular telephone while driving.

However, the panel rejected legislation that would bar all drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

“Things change when you’re not old enough to vote,” quipped Sen. Marty E. Williams, Newport News Republican and committee chairman. “We can be pretty tough on them, can’t we?”

Sen. William C. Mims, Leesburg Republican, proposed the cell phone ban for drivers younger than 18. He said studies of brain development have shown teens are good at multitasking but are not yet competent at setting priorities.

“If a teen is driving down the highway and talking on the phone, their attention is on that phone call,” Mr. Mims said.

He said it takes two or three seconds for a young driver to shift his or her focus from the phone conversation to a potentially life-threatening traffic situation.

Mr. Mims’ proposal was combined with a bill sponsored by Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican, aimed at tightening enforcement of teen driving restrictions passed four years ago.

One of the 2001 provisions bars 16-year-olds from carrying more than one passenger younger than 18 and 17-year-olds from carrying more than three passengers younger than 18. Another bars drivers younger than from driving between midnight and 4 a.m.

Mr. O’Brien’s bill would allow police to stop suspected violators. Current law allows only “secondary enforcement,” which means police can ticket violators only if they are stopped for a separate offense.

The bill also would allow primary enforcement of the seat-belt law for teens.

“When you tell them it’s switched to primary enforcement, they take it more seriously,” said Dana Schrad of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, which supported the legislation.

The committee voted 13-0, with one abstention, to send the O’Brien-Mims bill to the Senate floor.

Sen. Patricia “Patsy” Ticer, Alexandria Democrat, urged the committee also to restrict cell-phone use for adults by allowing only the use of hands-free, wireless devices while driving.

“It seems to me a matter of common sense and safety that if you have two hands to operate a vehicle, it’s better,” Mrs. Ticer said.

P. Shane Muchmore, a lobbyist for Sprint, said a multitude of distractions — applying makeup, eating and adjusting the car stereo — can lead to dangerous driving.

The committee voted 10-4 to kill the bill.

A Senate committee yesterday approved a bill that would require schools to teach students how to treat animals humanely.

By a vote of 6-5, with one abstention, the Senate Education and Health Committee advanced to a floor vote a bill that would add instruction on the humane treatment of animals to character education courses.

“We assume that everyone knows how to care for pets, but time and time again, animals are returned to shelters,” Donald Morrow of Virginia Voters for Animal Welfare told the committee.

Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat, joined by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. H. Russell Potts, Winchester Republican, said some people who grow up abusing animals ultimately wind up in trouble with the law for violence toward people.

“There definitely is a correlation there,” Mr. Edwards said.

Tom Evans, a lobbyist for several dog-breeders’ and hunters’ groups, tentatively opposed the measure, voicing reservations about what public school districts might ultimately define as humane animal treatment.

He said the groups he represents, including the Virginia Foxhound Club, the Virginia Houndsmen and Sporting Dog Association and the Virginia Deer Hunters Association, might support the measure if they are comfortable with those definitions.

Sen. Harry B. Blevins, a retired public school principal, opposed the measure.

“I am concerned about what we keep piling on and forcing public schools to do,” the Chesapeake Republican said.

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