Did you know Virginia has a new cell phone law? While the law actually went into effect in July of 2020, Virginians were provided time to adjust and be educated before law enforcement began on January 1st. If you're in the habit of using your cell phone for navigation, talking, or playing your favorite podcast while driving, we have everything you need to know to stay safe and legal on the road.
This new law does not condone distracted driving. It's important to recognize taking your eyes off the road for any activity such as tapping on a mounted cell phone, reaching for your wallet, eating a chicken sandwich, or putting on makeup, increases your chance of crashing significantly.
Virginia's previous cell phone law
The previous law prohibited the reading of any email or text message and manually entering characters or text on a cellphone as a means of communicating while driving. It also restricted holding a cell phone for any reason while driving in a work zone.
For good reason. According to data from the Virginia Highway Safety Office, of the 29,246 distracted driving crashes in Virginia in 2019, 1,560 were documented cellphone-related crashes. Let's remove percentages and talk about our communities. There were 891 Virginians injured, 111 seriously, and eight fatalities in 2019.
According to recent research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, distractions such as texting or talking on cell phones and reading are attributed to 80% of all crashes and 65% of all near-crashes, all preventable.
Virginia's new Hands-Free Law
Virginia joins twenty-two other states in having a primary hands-free cellphone law in which a driver may be cited for handheld cellphone use while driving. Drivers can still use mounted cellphones for navigation, talking via Bluetooth or headset, and other everyday tasks.
Virginia uses both primary and secondary enforcement
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
This law will not address the epidemic problem of distracted driving in Virginia, but it's a step in the right direction. Before you move on, read Mindy Schultz's story about losing her 5-month-old son to a distracted driver in Loudoun County in 2016.
Five exceptions to the law
When you're driving, you can't hold your phone for any task; dialing a number, sending a message, or typing new navigation. What can you do?
Drivers of a vehicle may lawfully use their phone if they are:
- lawfully parked or stopped
- the operator of an official emergency vehicle in the line of duty
- reporting an emergency
- using amateur radio or citizens band radio
- a VDOT operator performing traffic incident management services
Is it legal to hold and use your phone while stopped at a red light?
You can actually still be cited for holding your phone while stopped at a traffic light because you are technically still operating the car with your foot on the pedal. Intersections require your attention to pedestrians and other drivers, not to mention how annoying it is for the driver behind you when the light turns green and you're oblivious.
What Happens if I'm Pulled Over?
With Virginia's new law, police will pull you over for handheld cellphone use as a primary offense alone. That means you do not need to be suspected of any other traffic infraction for the citation to be initiated, unlike the prior secondary enforcement.
Virginia police will administer a citation for handheld cell phones similar to not wearing a seatbelt. Your cell phone will not be confiscated. The officer will explain why he or she pulled you over and ask you for your driver's license and registration.
Citations for law 46.2-818.2 offense may include:
- A $125 fine for the first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses as well as demerit points.
- A mandatory $250 fine if the law is broken within a highway work zone and three demerit points on a driving record.
- Fine up to $2,500, up to 12 months in jail, and up to a six-month license suspension, with a mandatory minimum fine of $250, if you are convicted of reckless driving while also violating law 46.2-818.2.
- Up to 6 demerit points
- Up to 6 months license suspension
- Up to $2,500 in fines ($250 minimum)
- Up to 12 months in jail
Will a citation increase my car insurance?
Distracted driving too often leads to crashes and incidents that can significantly impact your insurance rates. If you're cited for distracted driving in Virginia, there's a good chance that your insurance carrier will know about the infraction which will almost certainly result in an increase in your insurance premiums. The amount of your rate hike will depend on which insurance company you use and your overall driving history.
A parental opportunity
Virginia's new law is an excellent time to discuss the dangers of cellphone use while driving with your teen driver. You can read more in our Teen Driver Safety Week blog article. And remember, the best way to teach law-abiding behavior on Virginia's roads to your children is by modeling it.