When you are operating a motor vehicle, you are not supposed to engage in any activity that might distract your attention and cause you to take your eyes off the road – even if it is for a second or two. Doing so can increase the risk of an accident significantly.
Unfortunately, not many people understand the dangers of distracted driving – particularly the risks associated with using a cellphone while driving. It is why thousands of people are killed and hundreds of thousands are injured every year in distracted driving accidents across the country.
In order to curb the menace of distracted driving, Virginia has enacted a new law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The law prohibits drivers from using a handheld phone for any purpose (with a few exceptions) while operating a motor vehicle.
Virginia’s New Distracted Driving Law
Under the law, you are prohibited from using a handheld phone while operating a motor vehicle. You cannot hold a phone in your hand for any purpose – talking, texting, checking email, or browsing the web – when you are behind the wheel.
While Virginia already had a law in place to prevent cell phone use while driving, it was very limited in its scope and was difficult to enforce. Under the law, drivers were prohibited from:
- Checking or sending email
- Holding a phone in their hand for any purpose while driving through a work zone
This law, understandably, could not be enforced effectively, since police officers could never tell if a driver was using their phone to text someone or for any other purpose.
The new law, on the other hand, explicitly prohibits you from holding a phone in your hand for any reason – even when you are stopped at a traffic light. Any violation of the law is now considered a primary offense, which means you can be pulled over and cited for handheld cell phone use while driving.
It should be noted that the law does not prohibit cell phone use altogether while driving. You are still allowed to talk on the phone – as long as you are using a headset or a Bluetooth device. Similarly, you can mount your cell phone on the dashboard and use it for navigation or for any other purpose.
Exceptions to Virginia’s New Hands-Free Law
The law allows handheld cell phone use under the following circumstances.
- If your vehicle is stopped or parked lawfully
- If you are reporting an emergency
- If you are using a citizens band radio or an amateur radio
- If you are a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) operator performing traffic incident management related duties
- If you are an emergency services vehicle operator performing your official duties
Penalties for Violating Virginia’s Hands-Free Law
If you are pulled over for having a cell phone in your hand while driving – except for the aforementioned purposes – you will be issued a ticket by the officer. If it is your first offense, you have to pay a fine of $125. You have to pay a fine of $250 for subsequent offenses. If you violate the law while driving through a highway work zone, you have to pay a fine of $250.
Handheld cell phone use is not considered a moving violation. So, a citation will not add any demerit points to your driving record.
Why Such a Law Is Needed
Motor vehicle crashes result in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries in Virginia every year. Data from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that nearly 80% of these crashes are caused by distracted driving – particularly talking and texting on cell phone.
Sadly, a significant percentage of people who are killed in distracted driving accidents happen to be teenagers – between the ages of 16 and 19. So, there can no doubts about the fact that a strict law is needed to curb the menace of distracted driving.
With this new law, Virginia has joined Arizona, California, Maryland, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and several other states where handheld cell phone use is prohibited by law.
Injured in an Accident Caused by Handheld Cell Phone Use? We Can Help You!
At Shapiro, Appleton, & Washburn, we have over 30 years of experience in representing distracted driving accident victims in Virginia. We can review your case, determine the extent of tangible and intangible losses you suffered, calculate the value of your claim, and negotiate hard with the insurance company to get the settlement you deserve.
If needed, we will take your case to court and recover the financial restitution you are owed through litigation. We will make sure that your interests and constitutional rights are not violated by anyone at any stage of the claim process.
Call us today at 800-752-0042 or contact us online for a free consultation with one of our Virginia distracted driving accident attorneys.