Starting Friday, holding a cell phone while you drive becomes an enforceable offense in Virginia.
The total-ban bill became law July 1, but Gov. Ralph Northam delayed its enforcement until Jan. 1, 2021 in order to educate the public about the new rules. Texting and emailing while driving are both already against the law in Virginia.
Violating the ban is considered a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses. If a violation occurs in a highway work zone, there is a mandatory $250 fine.
Exceptions include first responders on duty; anyone parked or stopped (yes, that includes stoplights); anyone reporting an emergency; amateur or citizens-band radio users; and Virginia Department of Transportation safety service patrol drivers and traffic incident management crews.
Virginia joins Maryland and D.C. in banning all use of handheld electronic devices while driving. Maryland's law went into effect in 2013 and D.C. passed its ban back in 2004.
In 2018, 15% of all fatal crashes in Virginia were distraction-related, with Prince William County leading the state for distracted-driving fatalities, followed by Fairfax, Fauquier and Stafford counties, according to DRIVE SMART Virginia, a non-profit driver safety organization. Fairfax County topped the list for total distracted driving crashes with injuries, with Prince William County second.
Under the new law, you can still talk on your cell phone when you’re driving, but must use hands-free technology. Drivers pulled over under the new law won’t have to hand their device over to police. What you’re doing on your cell phone is irrelevant, police say, it’s the act of holding while driving that’s illegal.
For more information about the ban, see phonedown.org.