New Virginia cell phone law goes into effect in 2021: What does it mean for you?
Drivers, start using Bluetooth or storing your cell phone out of reach. In just a few weeks, it will be illegal for anyone to hold a cell phone while driving in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This new law, as outlined in House Bill 874, was signed by Governor Ralph Northam in July, and it goes into effect on January 1, 2021.
What does this mean for Virginia drivers? We at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys are here to explain and answer your questions.
What is Virginia’s new cell phone law?
As we wrote in March, Virginia’s new cell phone law makes it illegal for anyone in Virginia to hold a cell phone in his hand while operating a motor vehicle. This includes any “handheld personal communications device,” such as smartphones or pagers. Before this law, it was only illegal for drivers to text while driving or to hold a cell phone while driving in a construction zone.
Drivers can now face new penalties for violating this law and putting other people on the road in danger.
Why are Virginia laws changing?
More than 23,000 drivers were involved in a distracted driving accident in Virginia alone during a recent year, and more than 13,000 people were injured, according to the Virginia DMV.
However, distracted driving is 100% preventable if drivers simply choose to put away their phones and focus on the road. Virginia’s new cell phone law is designed to reduce these alarming numbers and make our roads safer. This law reminds us all that Virginia State Police will not take this offense lightly and will hold drivers who break this law accountable.
What are the penalties for driving while using a cell phone?
While the legal definition of the law has been expanded to include all cell phone use, the penalties for violating this law have not changed.
Under Code of Virginia § 46.2-818.2., drivers can be charged with a traffic violation and fined $125 for the first offense and $250 for a second offense. Drivers face a mandatory $250 fine if they hold a cell phone while driving in a highway work zone. Additionally, texting while driving can lead to three points being added to a license by the Virginia DMV, which can affect insurance premiums.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. The new law applies to every driver, but there are some situations in which using a cell phone or electronic communication device is allowed:
- Drivers of emergency vehicles, such as firefighters and ambulance drivers, if they are in the middle of an emergency
- Drivers who are reporting a crime, accident, or other emergencies
- Drivers who are using HAM or CB radio
- Drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped on the side of the road
- Drivers who are operating a Department of Transportation vehicle or are performing work for the Department of Transportation
Drivers are allowed to answer calls and respond to text messages through a Bluetooth device or voice-recognition apps, as long as they do not hold the phone in their hands. Although it’s legally permitted, listening to and responding to texts through voice recognition technology is also distracted driving, and it can lead to a dangerous crash that results in serious injuries.
What else can be done to prevent distracted driving?
Cell phone laws are just one way to help reduce the number of distracted driving accidents in Virginia, and these laws should be enforced with proper education and awareness. Many drivers, including teenagers, are not aware of the dangers of driving while texting.
Many of us spend a lot of our free time on our phones, and many may think that checking their phones while stopped at a red light is a natural choice. However, there are ways to teach ourselves new, safer habits.
At GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys, we want to educate everyone we can about the dangers of distracted driving. In our experience working with accident victims, we have seen far too many tragic results of distracted driving. So, we have a few tips to help everyone prevent distracted driving accidents, including:
- Tuck your phone away: Placing your phone in your car’s glove compartment or center console is an easy way to keep it out of your hands. You can also place it on silent or turn it off if you are tempted to use it.
- Have a passenger handle your phone: Family members, friends, and carpoolers can be excellent co-pilots during your daily commute. If you trust them to handle your texts, calls, or GPS, give them your phone for safekeeping before you leave. But be aware: talking to passengers can also be a form of distracted driving.
- Talk to your family: Eliminating distracted driving requires a team effort, so it is important to discuss these distracted driving habits with your family, especially if you have kids. Teen drivers have the highest rate of distracted driving among any age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By teaching the next generation to avoid this harmful behavior, parents can help reduce the number of distracted driving accidents in Virginia and help keep their own children safer.
- Take a pledge: Everyone from Oprah to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created online campaigns to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. An important part of these campaigns is getting drivers to pledge to never text and drive or only use Bluetooth devices. Sharing your pledge on social media can help inform other drivers about distracted driving and motivate them to avoid this harmful behavior.At GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys, we have our own Keys to Safe Driving Agreement for Teens that we encourage every parent to share with their teenager.
- Schedule a simulation: Virginia DRIVE SMART, a local non-profit dedicated to preventing car crashes in Virginia, offers a distracted and impaired driving simulator for groups of 50 people or more. It helps educate participants about the real-life dangers of reckless driving. The program is grant-funded and perfect for schools, so consider speaking to your local school leaders about offering the program (when Covid restrictions permit).
Who can help if you’re in an accident with a distracted driver?
We at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys hope that you are never involved in a distracted driving accident, but we have seen firsthand how common and destructive these accidents are.
As experienced Virginia car accident attorneys, we offer compassionate and excellent legal representation after an accident. We walk you through how to receive compensation for your injuries in a free, no-obligation consultation. If you choose to file a claim, we can represent you through the entire process. To discuss your case with us, call our office at (804) 413-6777 or toll-free at (855) 781-6777.
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Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.
- Safety Education
GibsonSingleton launches a “Texts=Wrecks” campaign to reduce the number of people injured or killed by distracted drivers.
- Annual Coat Drive
During the fall, our team works to distribute coats to people in need in our community.
- Hands-on Service
John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
- Supporting Local Schools
The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.