Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Distracted driving bill fails. Now what?

A painted portrait of Lakin Ashlyn Gabel (WYDaily Photo/ Julia Marsigliano)
A painted portrait of Lakin Ashlyn Gabel (WYDaily Photo/ Julia Marsigliano)

Six weeks after former Williamsburg resident Roxanne Gabel shared her daughter’s story at the State Capitol, the Virginia House and Senate failed to pass a bill which would have made it illegal to use handheld devices while operating a vehicle.

In Virginia it is illegal to text while driving, but it is not illegal to use a phone or other handheld devices to use GPS or go on social media apps. While there are certain emergency situations or exceptions to this rule, it does not apply to using GPS or social media apps.

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“We are very disappointed in the outcome of this legislation,” said Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia. “The bills were unnecessarily amended and sent to conference as a political strategy.”

The nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about roadway safety, save lives and reduce injuries on roads, co-sponsored the HB 1811/SB 1341 bill with Del. Chris Collins and Sen. Richard Stewart.

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Brooking said the action of adding amendments to the bipartisan bill put the bill in harms way to essentially kill the bill. The amended bill passed the Senate 37-3 and failed in the House 40-52, with 8 people refraining from voting. See the amended bill here.

The proposed amendments added to the bill included making it illegal to use GPS devices and social media apps such as Snapchat while driving.

Gabel’s 21-year-old daughter, Lakin died in a car crash seconds after she used the social media app, Snapchat. Gabel didn’t want other mothers to go through the pain she endured and together with her niece, Tabitha Clark, they created a memorial page encouraging others to refrain from driving while distracted. Gabel was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Brooking said she feels it’s really important to stress the original bill was good and noted a lot of people, including law enforcement, victim advocates, lawmakers and others expended a tremendous amount of energy on the bill.

“We won’t be walking away,” Brooking said. “I think we just need to reanalyze our approach.”

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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