On March 10, 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill banning the use of a handheld personal communication device while driving a motor vehicle. The law is set to take effect on January 1, 2021, and applies to most Virginia drivers. Continue reading for information regarding the new law.
Overview of the New Cell Phone Law
Under the new law, it is unlawful for any person to hold a handheld personal communications device, while driving a motor vehicle in Virginia.
However, the law provides an exception for some drivers, including:
- The operator of any emergency vehicle while he is engaged in the performance of his official duties;
- An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped;
- Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency;
- The use of an amateur or a citizens band radio; or
- The operator of any Department of Transportation vehicle.
The new law will replace Virginia’s existing anti-texting-and-driving law, which remains in effect until December 31, 2020.
Under the current law, Virginia drivers are prohibited from typing or texting on a device while behind the wheel. The current law also deems it unlawful for a driver to hold a device in their hand while passing through a construction zone. However, determining whether an individual was texting or merely holding their device (outside of a construction zone) proved to be problematic for law enforcement officers. The new law addresses this issue by completely prohibiting holding a device while driving.
Exceptions Explained and Discussed
Below we further discuss how the exceptions provided by the new law will be applied to drivers.
All drivers should be informed of the circumstances that prohibit, as well as those that permit, the handheld use of a cell phone while driving.
- Lawfully parked or stoppedvehicles. The new law permits drivers to use a cell phone while their vehicle is “lawfully parked or stopped.” For instance, drivers may lawfully make a call with their cell phone while their car is parked in a parking lot. Drivers may also hold their phones to make a call or send a text when their vehicle is pulled onto the shoulder of the road. The engine may be kept running, so long as the vehicle is fully stopped. Although the law does not explicitly prohibit cell phone use while stopped at a red light or stop sign, drivers are not advised to do so. it is advised that drivers do not use their cell phones at that time. The new cell phone law aims to work in combination with current laws to further combat instances of distracted or reckless driving. Using your phone, even if “technically” permitted at a red light, may nonetheless cause driver distraction that puts others at danger. Drivers should place their phones out of reach until they have parked or moved their car to the shoulder of the roadway.
- Reporting an emergency. The new law permits drivers to hold their cell phones while driving if necessary to report an emergency. In the interest of public safety, drivers should not be prohibited from making emergency calls while driving. To encourage drivers to report emergencies, the law does not apply to using a cell phone to call 911. However, all drivers should use extreme caution when using their cell phones to call emergency services while operating a moving vehicle. If you can safely pull over, do so. Any use of a cell phone while driving can distract drivers, significantly increasing the risk of an accident.
- Amateur/CB radio use. For the most part, this exception relates to truck drivers who use CB radios to communicate with other truck drivers on the roadways. Even so, drivers of passenger vehicles may also use CB radios. Again, however, we urge you to exercise extreme care when using any device that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind off driving. Using a CB radio can cause a driver distraction that leads to an accident.
If you have further questions regarding the new Virginia cell phone law, err on the side of safety or contact an experienced attorney.
What’s All the Fuss About?
Some drivers may feel that the new cell phone law is overly restrictive. Why did lawmakers choose to regulate cell phone use so broadly?
Put simply, distracted driving can create extremely dangerous conditions for all drivers sharing the roadways. As cell phones and other devices have become increasingly prominent, scientists and public policy-makers have realized that cell phone use while driving creates a massive threat for all Virginia drivers.
As humans, our brains have a limited capacity to fully focus on the task at hand when our attention is directed elsewhere. Of course, some individuals may believe they have mastered multitasking, but our brains function best when focused on a single task. Because the tasks of driving and using a cell phone activate different parts of our brains, the focus of our attention is conflicting when attempting both tasks simultaneously.
In fact, the danger of driving distracted involves more than simply using a cell phone behind the wheel. Any activity that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or mind off the task of driving is a distraction. As mentioned, driving distractions significantly increase the risk of a catastrophic accident.
While the new law only bans holding a cell phone while driving, we urge Virginia drivers to minimize any potential driver distractions. Eating or drinking, disciplining children or pets in the back seat, or shaving or applying makeup while driving can be equally distracting with equally devastating consequences. When you are behind the wheel, you should focus on driving, so that you can ensure the roadways are safe for all who use them.
Lawyers for Victims of Distracted Driving
Distracted driving poses a major danger to everyone who uses Virginia’s roads—car and truck drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The law banning cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle aims to make the Commonwealth a safer place.
Nonetheless, accidents will continue to occur. If you are injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, contact an experienced Virginia car accident attorney for a free consultation today.