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Herdon Teen's Death May Lead to Legislation Targeting Texting While Driving

Bill targets drivers using handheld device for something other than verbal communication.

Kyle Rowley was on his way home on a Sunday night in 2011 when he ran out of gas near the border between Loudoun County and Fairfax County. So the Herndon19-year-old flipped on his flashers and began moving the car out of the road. That’s when it happened. The driver of an oncoming car was texting while driving and slammed into the teenager, killing him instantly. What happened to the man who killed Kyle Rowley was a surprise to the family.

"Since he wasn't speeding and he had no alcohol, there was no basis to charge him even though it was obvious that he wasn't paying attention because it was a straightaway, it was well lit, and he never put his brakes on," Rowley says. "But the law just doesn't have the ability to do that.”

At least not yet. After the criminal charge for reckless driving was dismissed, the Rowleys began working with Del. Scott Surovell (D-44), who represented the family in a wrongful death lawsuit that was settled out of court. Now, as the upcoming General Assembly session approaches, Surovell has introduced House Bill 1360, which would classify driving while simultaneously using a handheld communications device for something other than verbal communication as reckless driving.

"Watching dozens of people texting on my way to work every day on the Beltway, and having seen what happened where Kyle Rowley was killed, and couldn't be punished, I've come to the position we need to do something," said Surovell.

EARLIER THIS MONTH, Surovell and Del. Ben Cline (R-24) appeared together at a press conference in advance of a Virginia State Crime Commission meeting to announce the legislation. They were joined by members of DRIVE SMART Virginia, a coalition of groups advocating stronger legislation against texting while driving. Together, the bipartisan coalition hopes to pass legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session.

“This bill will strengthen the law on texting while driving and send the message that this is not safe or tolerable driving behavior,” said Cline. “I am pleased to have the support of DRIVE SMART Virginia, and look forward to working with Delegate Surovell to pass this important legislation.”

The Rowley family has mixed emotions about taking part in the legislative process. Carl Rowley, the teenager’s father, says nothing is ever going to bring back his son. So he has an ambivalent attitude about seeking legislation in the upcoming session.

"He was a real good kid," said the elder Rowley. "We really miss him, but what are you going to do? That's one of the reasons I'm not so gung-ho about this whole process because there's nothing we can really do for him anymore. But it's important that something is done."

THE LEGISLATION, House Bill 1360, provides that driving while simultaneously using a handheld communications device for something other than verbal communications can be punishable as a reckless driving Class 1 misdemeanor. That means the penalty can be up to $2,500 and a year in jail. For the Rowley family, the pain of their loss is still fresh. That means the upcoming session could be an emotionally difficult battle — even if it’s one that might create a legacy for Kyle Rowley.

"As Carl said, we can't bring Kyle back," said Meryl Rowley, the teenager’s mother. “But we can send a harsher message that texting while driving is becoming a national problem.”