Author: Attorney J. David Douthit
Distracted drivers. We've all seen them, doing things like talking on a cell phone, adjusting the radio, or reading the newspaper. Maybe we've even been one of them. In its most recent session, the Virginia General Assembly decided to take action against one form of distracted driving: drivers who are texting while driving.
Effective July 1, 2009, texting while driving will be a traffic infraction. Under Code of Virginia section 46.2-1078.1, it will be unlawful for anyone operating a motor vehicle on Virginia roads to use a cell phone, blackberry or similar device to email or text message another person or to read an email or text message while operating a motor vehicle.
The full text of the bill, which was approved on March 30, 2009, can be found at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?091+ful+CHAP0661.
There are several exceptions to the new law. For example, a person who is lawfully stopped can send or read messages. The new law apparently does not prohibit reading caller ID information for incoming telephone calls. Significantly, the new law does not appear to prohibit entering numbers (rather than letters) into a communications device. If this is in fact a correct reading of the new law, dialing while driving will not violate the texting while driving statute.
In other states, such as California, dialing while driving is illegal. In Virginia, it may not be illegal yet, but it is distracting and can be dangerous. When you are driving a motor vehicle on the highway that weighs several thousand pounds, you are basically steering a missile down the road. You don't need any distractions; you need to concentrate on what you are doing.
As was the case when Virginia's seatbelt law was first adopted, texting while driving will not be a primary offense. In other words, a person cannot be cited for violation of the new law unless that person is first stopped for some other offense.
Penalties for violation of the statute are $20 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.
About the Author: Dave Douthit is a personal injury attorney in the Richmond, Virginia office of Allen & Allen. His background with big insurance companies and knowing how they work behind the scenes is an advantage for his clients when he is negotiating and fighting for their rights.