It’s simple: Put it down.
As of Jan. 1, it is illegal to hold a phone while driving in Virginia. That means no fiddling with your hand-held device as you barrel down the interstate or navigate your neighborhood. Use your Bluetooth or talk through a speaker — but don’t cradle your cellphone.
The General Assembly passed this bill during this past year’s session. While new laws usually go into effect on July 1, lawmakers wanted to allow for more time to educate the public about the road safety measure. There are some exceptions, such as if you’re reporting an emergency. But if in doubt, don’t hold your cellphone if you’re behind the wheel.
If you’re caught, the first offense is $125. And the penalty increases to $250 for subsequent offenses — also the same fine if you’re using a hand-held phone in a highway work zone.
Holding a cellphone is a primary cause of distracted driving, which highway safety advocates describe as “the drunk driving” of our time.
Distracted driving accounts for 18% of all crashes in the state, according to 2019 Virginia Traffic Crash Facts, put out by the Department of Motor Vehicles’ Virginia Highway Safety Office. The other top causes of distracted driving are eyes not on the road and looking at a roadside incident.
We’ve all witnessed or been party to near-crashes because someone was more focused on his phone than the road ahead. Maybe a motorist dropped her phone, or is more busy dialing than driving. Accidents happen in the blink of an eye.
This new law offers a solution to a growing problem.
“There is a lot of agreement that this is something that will significantly improve traffic safety across the state,” Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall told The Roanoke Times. “Distracted driving is a significant factor to crashes.”
As Gov. Ralph Northam said in December at a briefing about the new law, “If you’re looking down at your phone, texting or checking an email, you’re not looking at the road and that can go so far, so badly, so fast.” Citing state figures, Northam said more than 23,000 crashes in Virginia in 2019 were caused by distracted driving — with 120 deaths.
So when you’re driving, pay attention to the road. If you have to make a call or text, pull over. Put down your phone — it’s a simple law to follow.
— Pamela Stallsmith