Law Aims to Prevent Virginia Motorists from Touching Their Cellphones

Virginia has banned texting and driving for more than five years with little success. Now legislators are backing a tougher law to prevent motorists from touching their cellphones while driving in Virginia.
In Feb. 2019, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates each passed bills prohibiting motorists from touching their cellphones while driving.
The Senate backed SB 1341 on a vote of 34-6. The House passed HB 1811, 69-27. The bills would make it an offense for drivers in the Commonwealth to use a hand-held communication device, unless it is in hands-free mode, while operating a vehicle.
Although the bills are identical, they have not yet reached the statute books. Either the House must pass the Senate bill, or the Senate must pass the House bill before they become law. Then Governor Ralph Northam must sign the legislation.
The legislation would give police greater powers to tackle distracted driving. In 2017, distracted driving caused 208 deaths in Virginia, an 18.2 percent increase over 2016. The trend suggests Virginia’s anti-texting law was doing little to stop the death toll mounting.
State law currently prohibits only the reading of email or text messages or drivers manually entering letters or text in a hand-held phone or another device while driving. The legislation would extend that ban. Drivers would not be able to make phone calls on hand-held devices, nor check social media or other functions while driving. The bills state:
“It is unlawful for any person while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth, to hold a handheld personal communications device.”
There are exceptions to the rules. Drivers would be permitted to operate their phones when lawfully parked or stopped or if they were reporting an emergency.
Media reports noted legislators passed the bills after Bartley King addressed the Senate. King sustained acute injuries in a distracted driving accident in 2007 as a senior at Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University.
King was texting. He lost control and crashed into a tree at 55 mph. Media reports stated the horrific crash left him in a coma for 28 days at the VCU Medical Center. He spent the next 16 months in a wheelchair relearning to walk.
King gave an emotive testimony about his battle back from the brink of death.
The House bill was sponsored by Republican Dels. Christopher Collins of Frederick County and Michael Webert of Fauquier County as well as Democratic Del. Michael Mullin of Newport News.
Collins said Virginia has failed to enforce its existing statute relating to texting and driving.
The existing law carries a penalty for a first offense of a $125 fine, rising to $250 for a second or a further violation. The law is difficult for police to enforce because it’s lawful to talk on a cellphone or check certain information.
How the New Law Takes Aim at Virginia Motorists Touching Their CellphonesCollins said the new law is straightforward. If you are holding your phone while moving, you commit a violation.

Republican Sens. Richard Stuart of King George County and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Every year, we help dozens of people who suffered severe injuries due to distracted drivers.
Some jurisdictions have attempted to take a tougher line than the state on distracted driving. In January, the Daily Press reported how Hampton City Council passed an ordinance targeting motorists who use a handheld personal communication device in a way that “diverts the driver’s attention” from operating the vehicle.
Drivers found guilty of violating Hampton’s hand-held law would be fined $125 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses, city officials say.
Hampton police would not be able to cite drivers who are stopped or those using a handheld device to call in an emergency. A driver using a handheld radio-based communication device would also be exempt.
The law covers cellphone use on a broad scope including making a call, watching a movie, or playing a game on a smartphone.
Police would need to see an indication of distraction like a driver weaving in and out of traffic lanes or running a red light.
We are aware of the seriousness of distracted driving in Virginia. Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers encourages young people to apply for our distracted driving awareness scholarship. Call us if you or a loved one has been hurt by a distracted driver at (757) 231-6443.

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John Cooper

Licensed since 1988

Member at firm Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers

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