New Hands-Free Law Targets Distracted Drivers in Virginia
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents that cause injuries in Virginia. Legislators have struggled to come to terms with widespread cellphone use by drivers in recent years. This month, Governor Ralph Northam signed a new hands-free law that targets distracted drivers in Virginia.
The law is likely to be stricter than previous legislation. For years it has been illegal to text, email, or check social media on a hand-held device while driving in Virginia. The complete ban on hand-held devices behind the wheel is an acknowledgment of the difficulties in enforcing the texting ban.
Northam held a virtual bill signing this month. He has delayed the date of the bill’s implementation until Jan 1, 2021, to give police time to gear up for the new law. Drivers who violate the new measure face a $125 fine. A second offense carries a $250 fine. Holding an electronic device in a work zone automatically carries a $250 fine.
Although legislators beefed up the law to include a hands-free ban in work zones in 2019, police found the existing law to be difficult to enforce. The new law will still allow drivers to talk on their phones, but they will not be able to legally hold their devices.
The existing law allows drivers to use their phones for calls, to check voicemails or to check a map. Police were not allowed to confiscate phones, meaning drivers could claim they were checking voicemails rather than texting. Groups including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety found Virginia to be one of just 11 states considered to be “dangerously behind” in its driving safety laws. The new legislation allows for more effective targeting of distracted drivers in Virginia.
Personal injury lawyers routinely request phone records when driver distraction is a factor in an injury or a death, an all-too-common issue in Virginia. Car and truck accident victims seldom realize the driver who hurt them was on their phone before a crash. It can often take painstaking investigations by an attorney to find out the cause of a wreck.
Distracted driving was a factor in 23,246 crashes in 2019, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Last year, 120 drivers, passengers, and pedestrians died in Virginia due to distracted drivers and 13,258 people suffered injuries. Distracted driving amounted to 14.5 percent of all traffic fatalities in the Commonwealth.
The use of electronic devices is the most visible form of driver distraction but there are many others. Drivers often don’t realize they are distracted. People who fail to keep their eyes on the road, eat at the wheel, talk to passengers, or apply makeup may also be distracted. Research by Virginia Tech found 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of near misses involve driver inattention within three seconds of the incident.
Four Hampton Roads cities feature in a list of the 10 locations with the highest numbers of distracted driving crashes, namely Virginia Beach, Newport News, Hampton, and Chesapeake.
Lt. Tommy Potter of the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office told WTKR.com that the new law will likely save lives. He pointed out it only takes a split second of distraction by a driver looking at a phone to be involved in a crash. He said the sheriff’s office is likely to initially issue warnings until drivers become familiar with the new law.
Some jurisdictions have issued their own hands-free laws. Richmond City Council passed an ordinance last year that came into effect in June. All handheld cellphone use is unlawful within Richmond city limits. The only exceptions are when people call emergency services or are stopped at a red light.
Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers is committed to fighting distracted driving in Virginia. Every year, we award three scholarships of $2,000 to graduating seniors in the Hampton Roads and Eastern Shore areas who submit essays under our Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship program. Teens are particularly prone to the use of electronic devices behind the wheel. The summer months typically see a spike in fatal and serious accidents involving teen drivers. If you or a family member has been hurt by a distracted driver, please call our experienced Virginia distracted driving accident lawyers as soon as possible.