Holding a Phone While Driving Will be Illegal in Virginia Come January

 

Virginia drivers who like to use their phone while behind the wheel will need to break that dangerous habit once the new year begins or be ready to cough up money.

Thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly last spring, starting January 1 it will be illegal to hold a phone while driving in the Commonwealth.

“Research demonstrates that texting while driving or driving while looking at your phone is often more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. It’s behavior that we need to try to modify,” Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County), who originally introduced the bill, said in an interview with The Virginia Star.

Current law prohibits drivers from reading emails or text messages as well as manually entering letters or text into a communications device. This new law prohibits texting, dialing a phone number, browsing social media, checking the weather, etc.

According to DRIVE SMART Virginia, a non-profit organization working to improve road safety, there are five exceptions to the new state code.

Those include: the operator of an emergency vehicle while performing official duties, a driver who is lawfully stopped or parked, anyone using their device to report an emergency, using an amateur or citizens band radio and operators of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) vehicles during official duties.

“I don’t think people realize how important this law is because you can’t go down the road without seeing somebody weaving, phone in hand, completely distracted,” Janet Brooking, DRIVE SMART Virginia executive director, told The Star. “It’s such a commonplace habit now.”

The legislation became law on July 1, but – to make sure Virginians had ample time to be notified of the changes – it does not become effective and law enforcement are not allowed to enforce it until the new year, according to Virginia State Police public relations director Corinne Geller.

For the past several months, DRIVE SMART has been responsible for that effort to inform the public. The organization has put up relevant signage at rest areas around the state, got VDOT to post information on their roadway signs, and even has a public service announcement video funded by State Farm being shared on social media, Brooking said.

Any driver found in violation will be subject to a $125 fine for the first offense and then a $250 for the second or subsequent offenses. A person who violates the law while driving in a work zone will also be fined $250, according to the new law.

Dana Schrad, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police executive director, told The Star that the money from fines handed out will go into the state’s literary fund, which helps pay for schools. But a locality can create an ordinance to override the state law and bring those funds back to the county or city if they want to.

Schrad also mentioned she’s heard through informal conversations that some law enforcement agencies said they are going to have a period once the law becomes effective where officers are more likely to give verbal or written warnings instead of citations, but officer discretion and how a person is driving will still come into play.

The Star contacted several police departments for comment on how enforcement of the new law will be handled, but most did not respond before press time or declined to talk.

According to DRIVE SMART, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near-crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds, and that texting increases a person’s risk of crashing by 2300 percent because it involved manual, visual and cognitive distraction.

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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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