Holding a Cell Phone While Driving is Now Illegal in Virginia
Distracted driving causes thousands of accidents every year in Virginia. As a result, the state has strengthened its laws to address this serious problem by making holding a cell phone while driving illegal in Virginia. Governor Ralph Northam signed this important piece of legislation into law in the summer of 2020, but enforcement began on Jan. 1, 2021.
What is the New Cell Phone Law?
The new law “prohibits any person from holding a handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle.” It replaces a weaker existing law that prohibited the reading of any email or text message and manually replying on a mobile device. Police found the previous law difficult to enforce because it was legal to make a phone call on a handheld device. However, motorists could be fined for using a handheld device in a work zone.
The bill signed by Northam expanded the exemptions to include handheld personal communications devices that are being held and “used as an amateur radio or a citizens band radio or for official Department of Transportation or traffic incident management services.”
The new law is a long-overdue recognition that previous legislation was doing little to address Virginia’s distracted driving problem. A report from the Virginia Highway Safety Office links 120 deaths in 2019 to distracted driving as well as 13,258 injuries. Almost 50 distracted drivers who caused fatal accidents in 2019 were also speeding. This was a 19.5% rise over 2018.
Dangers of Driving While Using a Cell Phone
Although we associate the rise in distracted driving crashes over the last decade with the smartphone revolution, other forms of distractions cause accidents too. The use of cell phones and texting is the third most significant cause of wrecks, according to the Virginia Highway Safety Office. The leading causes were drivers taking their eyes off the road and looking at roadside incidents. Drivers using cell phones at the wheel caused eight fatal crashes in 2019 in Virginia and 891 injuries. Recent studies have highlighted high levels of distracted driving accidents in four Hampton Roads cities, namely Newport News, Virginia Beach, Hampton, and Chesapeake.
Distracted drivers are more likely to harm other motorists and themselves. They are also more likely to hit pedestrians. In 2029, 120 pedestrians died on the roads of Virginia. The result of this terrible statistic was the recently-enacted law in Virginia enhances the rights of pedestrians. Drivers must now stop for pedestrians at crosswalks and remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed their lane. Drivers who flout Virginia’s new hand-held driving ban face a $125 fine, with a second offense carrying a $250 fine.
How to Avoid Cell Phone Distractions While Driving in Virginia
Drivers should put away their handheld device when driving and ideally turn it off so it is not a distraction. Alternatively, you can mount your phone on a holder. When using your phone for navigation, make sure to activate the voice function on your device so as you are not distracted by the directions on the screen. Do not attempt to read texts or other notifications even if your device is mounted on your dashboard. The National Safety Council points out drivers can become distracted using a hands-free device as well as a handheld device.
The NSC highlights the three essential elements for driving; eyes on the road, the driver’s hands on the wheel, and his or her mind on driving. Using a hands-free device merely removes the second element from the dangerous equation. A driver who glances at a hands-free device may not see a hazard on the highway ahead.
A report in the Insurance Journal in 2014 highlighted more than 30 studies that suggest hands-free devices are no safer than handheld devices because the brain remains distracted by a phone conversation. Of poll participants who used hands-free devices, 70 percent said they did so for safety reasons. Research pointed to inherent problems in multi-tasking while driving.
Distracted driving is a massive problem on the highways of Virginia. Although you should never use a hand-held device and it is now against the law. That call or text can wait until you stop.
Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers is committed to fighting the scourge of distracted driving in Virginia and North Carolina. We welcome Virginia’s ban on handheld devices at the wheel. In 2020, our firm awarded four scholarships of $2,000 to graduating seniors in the Hampton Roads area who submitted essays under our Distracted Driver Awareness Scholarship. We also award one national distracted driving scholarship every year. Teens are particularly susceptible to using phones and other electronic devices while driving. Typically, they are less experienced drivers and are more likely to lose control of their vehicles. If you or a family member has been injured by a distracted driver, please call our experienced Virginia distracted driving accident lawyers.