Is Talking on the Phone While Driving Illegal in Virginia?
Distracted driving results in thousands of car accidents in Virginia every year. In an effort to combat a leading cause of distracted driving, many states enacted legislation prohibiting talking on the phone while driving.
Virginia passed legislation aimed to reduce the number of drivers using cell phones in 2007. In 2021, lawmakers determined the previous law was too lax and adopted a more stringent law for Virginia drivers caught talking on a phone while driving. If you have more specific questions about Virginia’s cell phone laws, reach out to our attorneys at Lantz and Robins, P.C.
Distracted Driving Statistics in Virginia
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported in 2019 that 827 deaths occurred on Virgina roadways. 120 fatalities occurred due to distracted driving. Despite the staggering numbers, a large portion of car accidents are preventable.
According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, distractions like cell phone use, reading, or searching for objects attribute to nearly 80% of all car accidents. The study, which was funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found:
- Texting while driving increased the risk of a crash by two times;
- Activities performed while making a phone call increased the risk of a crash by three times;
- Hands-free phone use is safer than hand-held phone use; and
- The average driver takes his or her eyes off the road for 23 seconds total when sending a text message.
The findings illustrate the dangers of distracted driving.
Virginia Law on Cell Phone Use While Driving
The former Virginia law prohibited the use of handheld personal communication devices in certain motor vehicles. The statute specifically prohibited using a cell phone to:
- Manually enter multiple letters or text into the device as a means of communication; or
- Read emails or text messages.
The prohibitions applied only to a person operating a moving motor vehicle.
The statute also outlawed a driver from holding a portable cell phone while driving through a highway work zone.
The new law, HB 874, prohibits the operator of a motor vehicle from holding their cell phone while driving.
Cell phone use is allowed when drivers are stopped or parked legally. Thus, talking on the phone in a parked car is not illegal in Virginia.
Drivers may use their cell phone while driving when attempting to report an emergency.
Operators of emergency vehicles who are engaged in their official duties are not restricted from using cell phones.
Virginia law imposes penalties on drivers who fail to comply with the prohibition of holding a cellphone while driving. The first offense results in a fine of $125. The second offense results in a fine of $250. Violating the statute in a work zone results in a $250 fine.
Is Talking on a Phone in a Car Always Illegal in Virginia?
Virginia’s strict cell phone law does not restrict all methods of using a cell phone. Drivers can use their cell phone’s Bluetooth or voice control capabilities to make phone calls as long as the phone is not in their hands.
Under Virginia law, talking on a cellphone while driving is permitted for drivers as long as it is done by using the phone’s hands-free capabilities. Despite its legality, hands-free technology can contribute to distracted driving just like using a cellphone in your hand.
Do Cell Phone Laws Really Make Roads Safer?
Some form of prohibition on cell phone use while driving has been enacted in every state in the nation, except Montana. State laws prohibiting drivers from holding a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle are known as hand-held bans.
Twenty-five states and Washington D.C. currently have hand-held bans in place. Every other state, except Montana and Missouri, prohibits text messaging while driving. Missouri prohibits texting only for drivers under 21 years of age.
According to a study published in the scientific journal Pediatrics, states with strict cell phone laws have succeeded in preventing certain fatalities.
The study operated on the assumption that distracted driving increases the risk of car accidents, especially in teenagers. With that in mind, researchers evaluated how state laws affected this behavior. The study included fatal crashes involving drivers and passengers between the ages of 16 and 19 between 2007 and 2017. They compared rates across multiple states that had different types of cellphone while driving laws.
The study found that there were over 38,000 fatal crashes in the requested time period. The data indicated that states with stricter cell phone use laws had lower fatality rates overall than states without. Outright bans on handheld cell phone use demonstrated the greatest decrease in fatalities.
What Do I Do If I Received a Ticket for Talking on a Cellphone While Driving?
If you received a ticket for talking on the phone while driving in Virginia, don’t panic. The circumstances of the situation determine whether you truly violated the Virginia law on cell phone use.
Our attorneys at Lantz and Robins, P.C., can help you determine what steps to take next. Michael Lantz and Rand Robins have decades of experience litigating complicated legal issues. If you are considering contacting an attorney about Virginia driving laws, all you have to do is dial our number. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.