Distracted driving is incredibly dangerous and was the cause of more than 3,000 deaths and approximately 424,000 injuries across the U.S. in 2019. Yet, despite these shocking statistics, our Virginia Beach car accident attorneys still see accidents caused by driving distracted every day. In fact, nearly a quarter of fatal accidents in Virginia are caused by distracted driving. To promote safety and combat the phenomenon, the following laws have been enacted.
Ban on Handheld Devices
In January 2021, Virginia House Bill 874 was passed, making it illegal to hold a cell phone in any manner while operating a vehicle. Previously, Virginia laws allowed drivers to hold a device unless they were in a work zone and prohibited reading or sending messages while driving. The bill does not apply to:
- Drivers who are lawfully parked or at a complete stop.
- Operators of emergency vehicles, such as law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, or the Department of Transportation employees while they are performing official duties.
Although this law solely addresses cell phone use, which is only one common form of distracted driving, devices are responsible for a significant amount of car accidents and distraction-related fatalities.
Penalties for Cell Phone Use While Driving
The penalties for using a cell phone while driving in Virginia did not change when House Bill 874 became law. Instead, drivers will still be subject to:
- $125 for the first offense
- $250 for the second offense
- $250 for violations in a work zone, regardless if it’s the driver’s first offense
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) treats texting while driving as a 3-point offense for non-commercial vehicles.
What is Considered Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that diverts a driver’s attention away from operating their vehicle and can be broken down into three main categories:
Any action that takes one or both hands away from the steering wheel or other driving mechanisms. (e.g., eating or drinking, checking a cellphone, fixing makeup or hair, reaching into the back seat)
Any distraction that diverts a driver’s eyes from the road, even if it’s only for a brief time. (e.g., road signs, car accidents, pedestrians, looking at a text, etc.)
Cognitive refers to any loss of mental focus while behind the wheel. Cognitive distractions don’t require looking away from the road or actively doing something. The most common examples are daydreaming, dozing off, deep thinking about things other than driving, listening to an audiobook, etc. This type of distracted driving can be challenging to prove in an injury claim since it is tough to provide evidence of what a driver was focused on at the time of a collision.
Any distraction that falls into these categories causes a safety risk to drivers and everyone else on the road. The most dangerous are those that involve all three types of distractions, such as texting. Other common examples of distracted driving include:
- Talking on the phone
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to passengers in the vehicle
- Personal grooming
- Tuning the stereo or entertainment system
- Using the navigation system
The distracted driving laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia were much less stringent compared to other states. The House Bill 874 aims to bring about a significant drop in car accidents and distraction-related fatalities.