What is the law on Texting While Driving in Virginia and What Does it Really Mean?

The Commonwealth of Virginia has gone through a number of legislative modifications to the law against Texting and Driving.  Below is the statute itself but what does it really mean to you?  What the law lays out in Section A that the use of "personal communication devices" is unlawful while operating a motor vehicle.  This means your smartphone, but can extend to walkie talkies and was purposefully made broad to encompass most phones and for most communication including texting, facebooking, or using twitter.

However, Section B(2) and B(3) are the biggest exceptions to the law.  If anyone is lawfully stopped, which means if you have pulled over your vehicle, or are at a stop light, you are no longer in violation of the law.  Additionally, if you are using your phone as your GPS, this too is an exception.

What are the consequences of the law?  It is a violation of the Virginia Code and considered a traffic offense which means the consequences are up to a $250.00 fine plus court costs, as well as a possibility of three demerit points of your Virginia driving record. In many cases it is pre-payable, however you should note by prepaying any fine you are essentially pleading guilty to the charge and it will be assessed to your license as if you were found guilty by a judge.

So, how does the Commonwealth prove a violation of the law?  Well, the most common answer is through you!  If an officer suspects or sees you using your phone when he or she pulls you over, most of the time the offender simply agrees and apologizes. It is the combination of the officers suspicion along with the offender's admission that generally proves the case.  As you can see its a pretty complex law, and there are many possible defenses, depending on the facts and circumstances of every case, so you may wish to speak with an experienced traffic attorney about it if you ever get charged with this offense.

§ 46.2-1078.1. Use of handheld personal communications devices in certain motor vehicles; exceptions; penalty.

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.

B. The provisions of this section shall not apply to:

1. The operator of any emergency vehicle while he is engaged in the performance of his official duties;

2. An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped;

3. The use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning systems (GPS) or wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system; or

4. Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency.

C. A violation of this section is a traffic infraction punishable, for a first offense, by a fine of $125 and, for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of $250.

For the purposes of this section, "emergency vehicle" means:

1. Any law-enforcement vehicle operated by or under the direction of a federal, state, or local law-enforcement officer;

2. Any regional detention center vehicle operated by or under the direction of a correctional officer responding to an emergency call or operating in an emergency situation;

3. Any vehicle used to fight fire, including publicly owned state forest warden vehicles, when traveling in response to a fire alarm or emergency call;

4. Any ambulance, rescue, or life-saving vehicle designed or used for the principal purpose of supplying resuscitation or emergency relief where human life is endangered;

5. Any Department of Emergency Management vehicle or Office of Emergency Medical Services vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or operating in an emergency situation;

6. Any Department of Corrections vehicle designated by the Director of the Department of Corrections, when (i) responding to an emergency call at a correctional facility, (ii) participating in a drug-related investigation, (iii) pursuing escapees from a correctional facility, or (iv) responding to a request for assistance from a law-enforcement officer; and

7. Any vehicle authorized to be equipped with alternating, blinking, or flashing red or red and white secondary warning lights pursuant to § 46.2-1029.2.

D. Distracted driving shall be included as a part of the driver's license knowledge examination.

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