Using a mobile phone while driving will officially be illegal in Virginia starting on Jan. 1.
Current state law prohibits reading a phone and texting while driving and holding a phone while driving through a work zone, but the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation barring the use of handheld phones while driving a moving vehicle on state highways in March.
While the law was technically enacted on July 1, its effective date was delayed until the new year so that the public could be educated about its provisions and law enforcement agencies could get training on how to enforce it.
Violations of the new law will be punishable by a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 fine for any subsequent offenses.
There are a few exceptions to the ban on using a phone while driving, including:
- Emergency vehicle operators who are performing their official duties, including law enforcement and fire and medical responses
- Drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped
- Someone using their phone to report an emergency
- The use of an amateur or citizens’ band radio
- Department of Transportation vehicle operators who are performing traffic incident management services
According to Drive Smart Virginia, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported that 15% of all fatal crashes in 2018 were related to distracted driving. Fairfax County has the second-most distracted driving fatalities in the state, surpassed only by Prince William County, and the most injuries that result from distraction-related crashes.
The distracted driving ban is perhaps the most significant legal change coming to Virginia on New Year’s Day, but it is not the only new law that will take effect on Jan. 1.
Here are some other measures to be aware of when the new year arrives:
- HB 264: requires in-person training for concealed handgun permits, removing online or electronic courses as an option for demonstrating competence
- HB 1211: enables undocumented immigrants to apply for new driver privilege cards so they can legally drive
- HB 66: prohibits health insurance companies from charging more than $50 per 30-day supply for prescription insulin
- HB 789: sets a 36% annual rate cap on the interest and fees charged for a short-term loan, which can now go up to $2,500
- SB 172: protects people who receive emergency services from an out-of-network healthcare provider from unexpected medical costs
- HB 1407: prohibits employers from misclassifying employees as independent contractors
- HB 742: gives localities the authority to regulate the takeoff and landing of unmanned aircraft on public property
Photo via Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash
Apartment Fire on Castle Rock Square Under Control — A fire broke out in the bathroom of an apartment building on the 2200 block of Castle Rock Square late yesterday. No injuries were reported. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department]
Hands-free Cell Phone Laws Go Into Effect — Beginning Jan. 1, it is against the law to hold a phone or mobile device while driving. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Local Reston Heroes Who Went Above and Beyond — Three Restonians were honored for being local heroes by Patch readers. They include a member of the Reston Community Center Board, a childcare worker, and the owners of ArtInsights Gallery of Film and Contemporary Art. [Reston Patch]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Sprint is gearing up for several community engagement events in order to educate residents about a 125-foot monopole and ground equipment that is proposed at Herndon High School (7999 Bennet Street).
The company is seeking the county’s approval to build at 91-by-35-foot structure enclosed with a telecommunications facility. The project heads to the Fairfax County Planning Commission for a public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 7:30 p.m.
Here’s more from Sprint on why the project is needed:
The project will help Sprint bring improved coverage to your community. The shaded section below shows the approximate area that will receive enhanced network strength with the proposed wireless facility. The new facility will improve Internet connectivity speed and voice connectivity–especially inside homes and buildings–and help your area respond to the increasing demand for quality wireless service. Users outside of the shaded area may also see improved service as the new facility off-loads some of the traffic from the existing facilities in the area.
A community balloon fly will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 8 a.m., with a rain date of Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 8 a.m. A community meeting is set for Monday, Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. at Herndon United Methodist Church (701 Bennett Street).
More information about the project is available online.
Photo via Sprint
The county is considering a proposal to bring a new telecommunications facility with a 124-foot monopole and a fenced 91-by-35 foot compound to Herndon High School.
Milestone Communications Inc. is working with Fairfax County Public Schools to build the telecommunications facility on school property and lease space to wireless providers in the county, according to an application accepted by the county on April 4.
If approved, the monopole and compound would sit on the north side of the football field, just west of the visitors’ bleachers and between two existing stadium light poles. Spring antennas will be located on a platform on top of the monopole and a six-foot tall rod will extend from the tower.
It’s not the first time Milestone has worked with FCPS to build a cell tower. The company has similar projects at South Lakes High School and Herndon Middle School. Len Forkas, the company’s president said the company is committed to informing the community about the project in a transparent manner.
“We’re super excited about being able to improve services and we look forward to the whole process to obtain necessary approvals,” Forkas told Reston Now.
The compound area will be closed off by a 10-foot tall chain link fence in an attempt to create “a solid visual barrier,” according to the application. To go forward, the county must rezone land designated for general public use to the proposed public use of telecommunication facilities.
“The proposed use is benign and will not generate noise, light, dust, glare, vibration, fumes or odors. The traffic generated will be very minimal. The proposed use does not present a threat to the public health, safety or welfare and will not impact radio, television or telephone reception. It will have no negative impact upon the air and water quality, nor will it impact any existing environmental features on the subject property,” according to the submission.
Forkas also said football fields are ideal locations for cell towers because they already have tall lights.
The company says the new facility is necessary to boost coverage along Dranesville Road, Wiehle Avenue, the Fairfax County Parkway and residential communities around the high school site. Currently, Sprint’s coverage in the area is “weak,” according to the application. The tower will also accommodate up to five telecommunications carriers.
The administrative office of FCPS has approved the location on the site, according to the application.
A hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission is set for Oct. 2.
Photo of equipment on Lake Braddock High School property via Len Forkas
Reston Association’s Design Review Board unanimously shot down T-Mobile’s plans to install cell phone equipment on the roof of Waterford Square Condominiums Tuesday night — noting that the company’s tweaked plans did little to address residents’ concerns about the equipment’s incompatibility with the building.
T-Mobile proposed to install cell phone equipment on the building, igniting vehement opposition from residents’ who argued the equipment was extremely visible, damaged the building’s character and posed possible health concerns.
Richard Newlon, the DRB’s chair, said T-Mobile’s plan, which was similar to plans rejected by the board in April, did little to address the panel’s concerns about the visibility of the equipment. Panels are around 12 feet high and 10 feet wide.
“It was clear in April that this kind of design is not going to get approved by this board and it’s the same design,” Newlon said. “It’s almost embarrassing to be sitting here saying the same thing again and I don’t want to be… six months from now… saying the same thing again.”
DRB members also worried that installing cell phone equipment on a residential building could lead to similar proposals by other service providers. The redevelopment of Lake Anne Fellowship House prompted T-Mobile to remove its equipment from the rooftop and scout for other locations in Reston.
More than 25 people, including condominium residents and neighbors of the building, opposed the plan on Tuesday. Some noted that their stance was not indicative of mere opposition to change, adding that residents of the condominium were exploring the possibility of installing solar panels on the roof.
“We’re not trying to live in the past,” one resident, who lived in the building for roughly 20 years, said.
Ed Donahue, T-Mobile’s legal representative, said the company had attempted to strike a compromise by scaling back the structure from the edge of the roof and installing plastic, brick-like screening for the equipment. Donahue also noted that possible health concerns and zoning were outside of the DRB’s purview.
“We are in full compliance of the federal guidelines as we are on the thousands of sites in Virginia,” Donahue said, comparing T-Mobile’s plans to a similar installation at the Heron House.
Other DRB members said that T-Mobile failed to convince the board how the cell phone equipment and towers would be compatible with the architectural integrity of the building.
“I still see that it’s visible and it does detract from the architecture and the roofline,” said Grace Peters, a DRB member.
The equipment by other companies displaced by development at the Lake Anne Fellowship House have not yet proposed plans for reinstallation to other sites.
Photo via handout/Reston Association
Doug Meeker calls himself a corporate refugee. His son’s diagnosis with autism in 2003 pushed him off the corporate bandwagon and into the launch what he calls a “quest”: Life Sherpa.
The Reston-based app turns smartphones into personal trainers, giving young adults with executive functioning challenges like his 15-year-old son a step-by-step behavioral training program to traverse their day.
The concept is inspired by the Sherpas, an ethnic minority group in Eastern Nepal who have helped travelers like Edmund Hillary — the first person to climb Mt. Everest — navigate the treacherous mountain terrain.
The app’s main objective is to help young adults gain life skills as they transition into adulthood. It has drawn a diverse team of organizers, including members in Romania and India, who are united in their effort to help young adults overcome executive functioning challenges.
“The thing that keeps parents up at night is what happens they become adults. We can teach job skills to this population all day long, but… if they don’t have the basic life skills, it’s very hard to retain the job skills,” Meeker said. “The question comes down to this: How can we help this population gain more self-reliance?”
The app allows caregivers, therapists, counselors, school administrators and other stakeholders involved with the user to remotely monitor and measure their client’s progress.
But Meeker says the app’s goal was never to replace in-person human interaction critical to people’s success.
“What we really want to do is help the innovators scale their efforts. The more we can help them do that, the more we can free up resources to help more kids,” Meeker said.
Close to 100 clients are registered on the platform since its soft launch last in February last year.
Meeker said he believes the app will be successful because it draws on individual’s skills like close attentiveness to detail and the ability to solve complex problems.
The app also generates metrics and analytics to track client’s progress — departing from the days when clipboards and stopwatches were the primary tools for recording progress. Life Sherpa also uses consistent phrases and directions that are critical for successful behavioral therapy, he said.
Meeker hopes the app will continue to help young adults like his son — who is also a cancer survivor — transition into adult life.
“This is a personal quest. It’s all about creating ways for the individual to be independent and still be connecting to the people that are supporting them,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Doug Meeker
Property values, loss of tree canopy, concerns for children’s safety: these were some of the issues brought up by a concerned group of homeowners at a public information meeting held on May 12 at the Reston Community Center.
Reston Association is considering a proposal from Milestone Communications to allow construction of a 115′ monopole in Hunters Woods Park. Milestone has created a website for this project, Hunters Woods Wireless Pole.
The proposal is to lease RA land at the north end of the soccer field for the pole and its accompanying ground equipment (consisting of up to 4 – 12×20 buildings). Payment would be a percentage of revenue that the monopole supplier receives from a wireless carrier.
The Milestone representative said the average expected revenue is approximately $12,000 per year per carrier. The monopole can support up to 4 carriers (AT&T to be the first), so presumably revenue to RA could be over $48,000 per year. Should this proposal pass through the Reston Association Design Review Board, a zoning application will be filed with Fairfax County.
The following is a list of important meetings that should be attended if you wish to make your opinion heard. If you can’t attend, send an email, or both. It counts!
Monday, May 19, 7:30 p.m.
Reston Planning and Zoning Committee
North County Government Center (map), Community Room
12000 Bowman Towne Drive, Reston
The agenda can be viewed here. The P&Z committee reports to Supervisor Hudgins. Attending this meeting or emailing will let her know how you feel about the project. Parking note – carpool if you can. Due to construction, parking is very limited. Email is [email protected] and suggested subject line is Hunter Woods Park Monopole – Reston.
Thursday, May 29, 6 p.m.
Reston Association Board Meeting
Conference Center, 12001 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston
Must sign in to be allowed 3 minutes (sometimes the limit is 2 minutes; prepare for the shorter time) during the public comment session. Five minutes if you represent a group such as a Cluster, PTA, etc. You should also email your concerns to [email protected] with a cc to [email protected] (CEO Cate Fulkerson). Subject line should be Hunter Woods Park Monopole.
Tuesday, June 17, 7-9 pm
Design Review Board Meeting
Conference Center, 12001 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston
Milestone Communications will present their plan for DRB approval
At the May 12 information meeting, we were told that if the proposal does not pass DRB approval, it would not move forward. To be guaranteed a chance to speak you must register as an Affected Party.* To do so, contact Margo Collins, Reston Association Covenants Advisor, at [email protected] or (703) 435-7994 to submit a statement of your concerns. The statement must include your name and Reston address and may be submitted directly to Ms. Collins via email. Individuals are given three minutes; group representatives are given five. Emails should also be sent to [email protected]with subject of Hunter Woods Park Monopole.
This information is provided as a community service. Please feel free to contact me.
Director, Hunters Woods District
Reston Citizens Association
Photo: Cell phone towers at South Lakes High School/file photo