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Virginia’s Texting-While-Driving Ban Takes Effect

man using a phone in the car while driving
Virginia's ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. (Photo: Sadie Colbert/U.S. Air Force)

With a new year comes a new law in Virginia banning the use of cellphones behind the wheel.

The ban applies to anyone caught with a phone in their hand while driving. Unlike Virginia’s 2009 ban, the new law applies broadly to any handheld cellphone use and is a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can pull you over for it without another reason. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the law earlier this year, but the state delayed implementation while organizations like Drive SMART Virginia educated drivers about the changes. 

Janet Brooking, who heads Drive SMART Virginia, said the goal is to save lives.

“We just kind of slowly adopted this behavior of texting while driving or otherwise manipulating the phone, without realizing how dangerous it is,” she said.

About 3,000 people die each year in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Researchers right here in Virginia have also found that drivers using a hand-held cell phone are up to 3.5 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

Brooking said manipulating your phone while behind the wheel is the most dangerous form of distracted driving.

“Using your phone is the most egregious because it involves all three of the driving distractions: it’s a manual [distraction] because you’re holding it, it’s a visual [distraction] because you’re looking at it and it’s a cognitive [distraction], because you’re thinking about what you’re doing,” she said. 

The new law does not apply to drivers who are calling emergency services or legally stopped. It also continues to be legal to use a phone mounted on the dashboard or windshield.


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