In recent years, states across the country have passed laws and taken other steps to combat the problem of distracted driving. Virginia is one of those states. In 2013, Virginia joined a group of 47 states that ban texting while driving, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports.
However, do you understand Virginia’s texting law and other laws that address distracted driving in our state? When does the law apply? What penalties do you face if you violate the law? Here, we provide an overview.
What Are the Penalties for Texting While Driving in Virginia?
First, let’s look at the penalties you face if you violate Virginia’s texting ban, which is codified at Va. Code § 46.2-1078.1. If you are found guilty of the offense, you may be forced to pay a fine of:
- $125 for a first offense
- $250 for any subsequent offenses.
You should note that the law makes texting while driving a “primary offense.” This means that a police officer can pull you over if the officer suspects that you have been texting when you are behind the wheel.
What Does Virginia’s Texting Law Prohibit?
The state’s texting while driving ban applies to all drivers whenever they are on any Virginia public road. The law prohibits drivers from reading or sending:
- A text message
- An e-mail
- Any other type of similar message.
The law provides no exception for drivers who are stopped at a red light or stop sign or sitting in a traffic jam. Virginia drivers must safely pull over to the side of the road before they read or send a text message.
What Evidence Proves Texting and Driving?
The state must prove three elements in order to establish a person’s violation of Virginia’s texting ban:
- The driver was operating a motor vehicle.
- The vehicle was on one of the state’s public roadways.
- The driver was either writing or reading a message.
To be clear, the law applies to all messaging apps and all hand-held devices. For example, if a driver used an iPad to send a message instead of a cell phone, the ban would still apply.
How Effective Is Virginia’s Texting Law?
On paper, the Virginia texting ban seems to be relatively straightforward. However, safety officials still have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the law. The Washington Post reports that some safety experts believe that the offense is too difficult to prove. Under the law, a Virginia driver can still legally look at his or her cell phone for purposes other than writing or reading a message.
For instance, the driver could be using a phone to:
- Read stored contact information
- Access contact information to make a phone call
- Use a GPS device for purposes of navigation.
So, police officers may have a difficult time trying to determine whether a driver is actually texting and violating the law.
Have Any Lawmakers Proposed a Stronger Law?
Virginia lawmakers continue to press for laws that expand the list of banned distracted driving activities and strengthen the punishment that violators of the law face. The proposals appear to be aimed at providing a greater deterrent to drivers.
For example, Senator Scott A. Surovell recently introduced a bill, S.B. 860, which would have banned all uses of hand-held personal communications devices, including cell phones. The bill would allow use of a hand-held device only if it is mounted in the vehicle. Additionally, the bill would make violation of the law a reckless driving offense if the driver caused an accident.
Unfortunately, S.B. 860 did not make it out of the Senate’s Transportation Committee. However, if the past is any indication, you should expect lawmakers to continue to introduce similar legislation in future legislative sessions.
Is Texting While Driving Really a Serious Public Safety Problem?
Even though texting and driving is a relatively recent phenomenon, it has quickly become one of the nation’s most serious public safety issues. In reality, most Virginia drivers, including teenagers, have their smartphone with them at all times. Far too frequently, these drivers bend to the temptation to send texts while behind the wheel.
The data is clear: Texting and driving is extremely dangerous. The following statistics jump out:
- The Virginia State Crime Commission (VSCC) reports that 16 percent of all fatal accidents involve distracted driving.
- The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that texting while driving increases the risk of an accident by more than 400 percent.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in three drivers admit to sometimes reading or writing texts while driving.
For many years, car accident fatalities had dropped all across the country. However, in 2015, a sharp reversal in that trend occurred, and in 2016, traffic deaths rose again by more than nine percent, National Public Radio (NPR) reports. Multiple factors could contribute to this trend. However, many highway safety experts believe that distracted driving , including texting and other messaging, has played a substantial part in the increase in accidents.
Victims of Distracted Driving Deserve Full and Fair Compensation
At Marks & Harrison, our Richmond car accident lawyers fight for the legal rights and financial interests of distracted driving accident victims.
Distracted driving, whether it is a result of texting or caused by something else, constitutes negligent driving. Our law firm helps victims and their families to hold distracted drivers accountable for their actions and to pursue the compensation they are due. Depending on the facts of your claim, our law firm may be able to help you to seek damages that cover:
- Damage to your vehicle
- Emergency medical expenses
- All other medical bills
- Any costs related to rehab
- Long-term disability
- Lost current and future wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of limb
- Loss of lifestyle enjoyment
- Wrongful death damages (if your loved one died in a crash).
Were you injured by a texting driver in Virginia? We want to help you. Our Virginia auto accident attorneys have extensive experience with handling distracted driving accident claims. To schedule a free, no-obligation review of your personal injury claim, please do not hesitate to contact us. We serve clients from our Richmond headquarters and from eight other offices located throughout the state.