Lawmakers in Virginia make texting while driving a primary offense

During any given daylight moment in 2011, an alarming 660,000 vehicles were being driven by someone using a handheld cellphone in the United States, according to a survey recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Sadly, this survey merely illustrates just how severe the problem of driver cellphone distraction has become in the U.S. Indeed, thousands of motorists are injured by distracted drivers every year. Fortunately, lawmakers in 39 states - including here in Virginia - have gotten serious about eradicating distracted driving, and the resulting car accidents, by banning texting while driving, according to the NHTSA.

In fact, lawmakers in Virginia recently passed a bill that will not only increase fines for drivers caught texting while behind the wheel, but will make the dangerous practice a primary offense.

Changes coming to Virginia texting-while-driving law

Under Virginia law, motorists are prohibited from using a handheld personal communications device - such as a cellphone - to read any email or text message while operating a motor vehicle. In addition, drivers are not permitted to manually enter in text or letters into their cellphones while driving as a means of communicating with another person. However, there are a few exceptions to this texting-while-driving prohibition, including:

  • Drivers who are using their cellphone to report an emergency
  • Drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped
  • Drivers who are using a factory-installed or aftermarket GPS
  • Drivers who are operating an emergency vehicle and engaged in official duties

It is important to note that under current Virginia law, police are only able to issue a citation under Virginia's texting-while-driving ban if they have cause to stop a motorist for some other traffic violation - which makes the current texting-while-driving ban a secondary offense.

However, this will change when the recently-passed Virginia texting-while-driving amendments become effective on July 1, 2013. On that date, texting while driving will become a primary offense in Virginia - meaning police will be able to pull over and ticket motorists for texting while driving alone, no other violation will be required.

In addition, fines under Virginia's texting-while-driving ban are set to increase under the recent amendments: from $20 to $125 for a driver's first offense and from $50 to $250 for a driver's second or subsequent offense. Interestingly, lawmakers had originally proposed increasing these fine amounts to $250 and $500, respectively, but based on the Governor's recommendations, they were reduced to $125 and $250.

Third, the statute also makes clear that a driver may be charged with Reckless Driving for texting while driving depending on the circumstances of the behavior.

These recent amendments are an important first step in ensuring dangerous texters are held accountable for their actions. If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, it may be advisable to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can help by detailing your rights and options given your particular circumstances.