In 2007, Virginia enacted a ban on texting while driving. Public safety officials have long argued that Virginia’s ban on texting and driving ban is insufficient. According to data provided by DRIVE SMART Virginia, distracted driving remains one of the leading causes of serious car accidents in the Commonwealth.
Recently, the Commonwealth has put additional restrictions in place on cell phone use. In July of 2020, lawmakers banned the use of a handheld cell phone while driving. After a six month grace period, Virginia’s handheld cell phone law is now officially being enforced. Here, our Fairfax traffic defense lawyers provide an overview of the handheld cell phone ban.
Virginia’s New Handheld Cell Phone Law: Explained
As of January 1st, 2021, Code of Virginia § 46.2-818.2 makes it “unlawful for any person, while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth, to hold a handheld personal communications device.”
This is Virginia’s handheld cell phone ban. The Commonwealth has joined nearly half the country (22 other states as of early 2021) in largely banning the use of handheld cell phones and other handheld devices behind the wheel.
Virginia’s statute applies to handheld devices. You can still talk on a cell phone while driving in the Commonwealth as long as it is purely hands-free. The phone should be mounted or otherwise accessible without the use of the driver’s hands.
What are the Penalties for Violating Virginia’s Handheld Cell Phone Law?
Virginia’s new law makes the use of a handheld cell phone a primary offense. In other words, a police officer can pull you over for holding a cell phone—they do not need any other reason for doing so. A violation of the law carries the following penalties:
- First-Time Offense: $125 fine.
- Subsequent Offenses: $250 fine.
- Work Zone Violation: $250 fine.
- Violation as Part of Reckless Driving: Maximum penalties include $2,500, six month license suspension, and 12 months in jail.
Virginia has some of the most strict reckless driving laws in the country. As explained by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a motorist can be charged with reckless driving in a wide range of different circumstances. If you are facing a reckless driving charge in Northern Virginia, you need strong legal representation.
The Exceptions to Virginia Handheld Cell Phone Law
As a general rule , you cannot hold or use a handheld cell phone while driving in Virginia. That being said, the new statute does include some clear exceptions. You may use a cell phone in any of the following circumstances:
- Parked: If you are lawfully parked, you are allowed to use your cell phone. Please note that being stopped at a red light or at a stop sign does not count. You can be cited if using your handheld phone at a red light.
- Reporting an Emergency: Virginia’s handheld cell phone ban includes an emergency exception. If you need to report an imminent emergency to the police or to 911, please do so in a safe manner. You should not be cited for a violation even if you are technically still operating a vehicle.
Call Our Northern Virginia Traffic Offense Attorney for Help
At Leary Law, P.C., our Virginia criminal defense lawyer has the experience and knowledge to handle the full spectrum of reckless driving claims. If you have any questions about the Commonwealth’s new handheld cell phone law, we are here to help. Get in touch with us today to schedule a confidential consultation. From our office locations in Fairfax and Manassas, we represent clients throughout Northern Virginia, including in Haymarket, Gainesville, Tysons, Reston, and Alexandria.