The 2020 General Assembly session was historic, and resulted in several significant changes to laws governing drivers in the Commonwealth.
- Prohibiting holding a cell phone while driving. House Bill 874, sponsored by Del.Jeff Bourne (D- Richmond), bans holding a cell phone in your hand while driving a motor vehicle in Virginia. The old law, passed in 2019, only prohibited reading or typing messages on a personal communication device, but there was no ban on hand-held devices, except in work zones. The 2020 legislation does contain some exemptions, for drivers who are legally parked or at a full stop and for emergency vehicle drivers such as police officers and firefighters. The bill, signed by Governor Northam, takes effect on January 1, 2021. The fines for non-compliance are $125 for a first offense and $250 for a second offense.
- Driver privilege cards to undocumented immigrants. This legislation makes undocumented immigrants, who were previously unable to obtain a Virginia driver’s license because of their inability to provide proof of legal residency, eligible for a new driver privilege card. In order to qualify, an individual must only prove that they have reported income from Virginia sources or were claimed as a dependent on an individual tax return filed in Virginia in the past twelve months. With the exception of proving legal residency, those eligible for the new driver privilege card must still comply with all rules and regulations of Virginia drivers, including driver’s education and car insurance. The problem this bill solves is that most undocumented immigrants were simply driving unlicensed, with no driver’s education, and often no car insurance. For the estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants who call Virginia home, Sen. Scott Surovell (D- Alexandria) commented that, “this bill is going to change people’s lives.” Unlike driver’s licenses, these new driver privilege cards must be renewed every year.
- Repealing suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of fines or costs. This bill forbids the Department of Motor Vehicles from suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines or court costs associated with a conviction of any violation of Virginia law. It further requires the DMV to reinstate driver’s licenses suspended in the past for nonpayment of fines or costs.
- Raising the threshold for reckless driving from driving in excess of 80 mph to driving in excess of 85 mph. This legislation has been widely discussed since the speed limits on some Virginia highways were raised from 65 mph to 70 mph. However, despite the new definition of reckless driving, a motorist driving between 81 and 85 mph is still subject to an additional $100 fine, and drivers can still receive a reckless driving ticket for driving in 20 mph in excess of the speed limit. 
- Photo speed monitoring approved in school and work zones. This legislation authorizes state and local law enforcement to use photo speed monitoring devices in school and work zones for drivers exceeding the school or work zone speed limit by 10 mph or more. Operators in violation will receive a ticket in the mail.
As of July 1, 2021, many statutes governing equipment violations were amended to add the following language:
“No law-enforcement officer shall stop a motor vehicle for violation of this code section. No evidence discovered or obtained as a result of a stop in violation of this subsection, including evidence discovered or obtained with the operator’s consent, shall be admissible in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding.”
With the changes, police in Virginia can no longer initiate a traffic stop for:
- Defective or unsafe equipment (46.2-1003)
- Objects dangling from the windshield (46.2-1054)
- Dark window tint (46.2-1052)
- Expired registration or inspection, unless the inspection sticker has been expired for 4 months (46.2-1157)
- Taillights not working properly (46.2-1013)
- Brake lights not working properly (46.2-1014)
- Loud or malfunctioning muffler/exhaust (46.2-1049)
In addition, police can no longer stop a pedestrian for jaywalking (46.2-926 and 46.2-923).
All of these infractions are still illegal, but they are “add-on” violations. If you are lawfully pulled over for a primary offense, an officer can also cite you for these secondary offenses. But a police officer in Virginia can no longer use a violation of the above code sections as a reason to pull you over.
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