Do You Text When You Drive? For What It’s Worth, You Should Know The Law

Do U txt when U drive? FWIW, U shud no the law.

Author: Malcolm P. McConnell, III, Richmond Injury Attorney

On July 1, Virginia law changed and anyone who is tempted to text while driving should take heed: Before the change, texting while driving was what is called a “secondary offense,” meaning that a driver had to be stopped for some other offense before he could be charged with texting and driving. However, as of July 1, texting while driving is a PRIMARY offense, allowing police to stop drivers who are merely suspected of texting or reading text messages while driving.

The new law is Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-1078.1.[1] It provides, in pertinent part:

A. It is unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to:

1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or

2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored within the device nor to any caller identification information.

The fine for a first offense is $125. Subsequent offenses carry $250 fines. Texting while driving can result in three points on your driving record and if you are convicted of reckless driving and you were texting, the new law imposes an automatic $250 additional fine. (The new law does not apply to emergency responders or to people reporting emergencies, to GPS use, or to drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped.)

Proponents of the law have a lot of evidence for support. The United States Government has an official website dedicated to the topic of distracted driving (www.distraction.gov). It reports frightening statistics, including these[2]:

  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 416,000 injured in 2010.
  • Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
  • Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.
  • Headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use.

Because texting while driving is now a primary offense, it will be enforced as such. If a police officer observes the illegal conduct, he will have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. Upon stopping the vehicle, further investigation will determine what charges are made. Furthermore, as with other driving offenses, those who would text while driving should be ready for checkpoints.

Making the law more harsh and the penalties higher is intended to reduce instances of dangerous, distracted driving. But the best method for reducing this danger is education. Know the facts. Go to www.distraction.gov. Discuss the dangers with your friends. Warn them. Insist that anyone driving you put the phone down and ignore it until the car is safely and lawfully stopped or parked. Your life may depend on it.

About the Author: Mic McConnell is the lead medical malpractice lawyer for the Allen Law Firm's Medical Malpractice Team. With over 20 years of experience, his successful litigation of cases in a wide variety of medical malpractice specialties has earned him a listing in Best Lawyers in America and Virginia Super Lawyers. He also handles personal injury cases involving distracted driving and motor vehicle crashes.

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