After working to pass a bill four years ago to make the roads safer for teen drivers, Sen. Jay O'Brien (R-39th) has safety on his mind again as the Virginia General Assembly session gets under way in Richmond.
O'Brien was patron of a bill in 2001 that imposed several restrictions on drivers under 18 who hold provisional licenses, including a curfew from midnight to 4 a.m., limiting the number of passengers allowed in a car, and delaying the driving age from 15 to 15 years and six months.
Based on an increased number of accidents, some fatal, involving teen drivers this year, O'Brien has gone back to the drawing board, sponsoring SB 966, a bill that has passed the Senate Transportation Committee and now is on the Senate floor.
"We were sitting around for four years watching the results, and there was a definite improvement," said O'Brien. "Frankly, there was an epidemic this year in the greater Washington area. In Virginia, it was just unacceptable."
The bill would make the use of a cellular telephone while driving, by anyone holding a provisional license, illegal.
“Every incident that leads to a teen fatality is the result of an illegal act — speeding, driving under the influence, breaking curfew, no seat belt, they're doing something they shouldn't be doing," said O'Brien. "What can we do as a policy to correct that, so they make good choices or think about good choices? A teen who is learning how to drive should be entirely focused on this act. This drives that point home."
O'Brien said that while he has received some opposition from teenagers, parents and even cellular phone companies have offered their support.
"We've got a fight yet, but I think the people are with us on this.”
In addition to this bill, O'Brien has introduced legislation related to issues from adoption to property rights. Another bill, SB 963, would require that all emergency response agencies in Virginia, from the local to state level, make their communication systems operative with each other within 10 years. Currently, he said, systems are purchased from different suppliers and may or may not work with each other.
"This is post-9/11 thinking, and it's one of the top recommendations of the state's post-9/11 study on emergency preparedness," said O'Brien.
O'Brien also has introduced SB 1252, which requires semi-annual audits by the state of government databases, including public institutions of higher learning. He said the bill is in response to a breach of a database at George Mason University, which happened two weeks ago.
"I think the GMU story is significant in the extreme. It exposes the vulnerabilities of institutions with huge databases," said O'Brien.
O'Brien also introduced legislation that would reform the communications tax, making it a flat 5 percent, as well as proclamations recognizing Lake Braddock Secondary School teacher Joseph Hills, Virginia State Teacher of the Year, and to make Feb. 23, 2005 Rotary Day in Virginia, as 2005 is the 100th anniversary of the civic organization.