In an effort to make Virginia roads safer, legislators have enacted a bill that is meant to decrease the number of accidents caused by drivers distracted by their cell phones. As of January 1, 2021, it is illegal to drive a vehicle while using a cell phone in Virginia.
While similar legislation has previously existed that covered actions like texting and driving, officials argued the law needed to be strengthened to remove any gray area.
While this distracted driving ban initially went into effect on July 1, 2020, lawmakers allowed for a six-month built-in grace period for Virginia drivers to adjust to the new law. Now, Virginia joins neighboring states West Virginia and Maryland and the District of Columbia in banning handheld cell phone use while driving altogether.
Virginia Cell Phone Ban Legislation
This new law prohibits looking at or typing messages on a handheld device as well as simply holding a device while driving through a work or construction zone. To use a phone while in a vehicle, drivers may still safely pull over or lawfully park their vehicles before using their device.
Exemptions may be made for drivers making emergency calls, first responders and those performing Department of Transportation duties. Additional leeway is provided to those operating an amateur or a citizen’s band radio.
First-time violators receive a $125 fine and repeat offenders receive a $250 fine for each subsequent offense. A violation in a work zone will result in a $250 fine, regardless of whether or not it is a first-time violation.
While drivers cannot use the cell phone with their hands, phone mounts and Bluetooth are two car features that enable a driver to legally communicate while keeping eyes on the road.
Tips Avoid Cell Phone Distractions While Driving
When possible, ensure that your phone is silenced and safely stowed away in your glove compartment or another place that is far away from the steering wheel before you start driving. This will keep your attention on the road and prevent the urge to check your phone while behind the wheel. If your work or trip requires you to use your phone, consider using Bluetooth connectivity in your vehicle. This can help relay messages like directions, incoming phone calls and new messages without you having to look at or interact with your phone. This keeps you compliant with the new law, and more importantly, keeps your eyes on the road.
If you still need to look at your phone for navigation purposes or other reasons, invest in a sturdy phone mount. While a phone mount may temporarily take your direct focus off of the road, proper alignment will keep your eyes at road level and allow you to maintain control over your vehicle. For delivery or rideshare drivers, this is typically the most-safe option for completing work while ensuring roadway safety.
Enforcement of the New VA Handheld Cell Phone Law
Especially given that the education grace period has ended, efforts to penalize distracted driving behavior may become more stringent. Still, drivers may be unaware of these increased restrictions and maintain old driving habits.
As Attorney Jim Hurley explains, drivers and law enforcement will have to navigate these changes and find solutions that best promote safe driving behavior. “With the new restrictions on handheld electronic devices while driving in Virginia, it is now more important than ever for drivers to ensure the safety of themselves and others on the road,” says Jim Hurley of Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers. “Be sure to safely stow your phone away from the wheel and pull over if you need to use your phone when driving. Keeping your attention on the road and practicing defensive driving can help make the roads a safer place and prevent car accidents.”
To do your part, ensure that you are taking measures to prevent yourself from looking at your phone while on the road and doing all that you can to educate others on how to drive in a safe, law-abiding manner. You may have some difficulties keeping your phone away, but no text is worth more than a life. Please drive safely.