Phones down, drivers: It’s the law, and breaking it could cost you

Virginia Politics

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Drivers, it’s time to put the cell phones down, because starting Friday, it could cost you.

Virginia’s new cell phone law goes into effect Jan. 1. It’s already against the law to text and drive. Now you won’t even be able to hold the phone in your hand while behind the wheel.

The law is designed to save lives, but what about all the maps and driving apps so many of us use?

AAA Tidewater held a virtual news conference Tuesday and 10 On Your Side got the answer to that question. We also met some of the people who worked to get the new law passed, including victim advocate Christina Dempsey.

“A little piece of my heart breaks every time somebody loses their life because somebody felt that they needed to be distracted and not pay attention to the road,” Dempsey said.

She lost her sister, niece, and the daughter of her sister’s fiancé when a distracted driver crashed into them on a Virginia highway seven years ago. She’s worked on getting this new law passed since then.

This year, there have been at least 16,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Virginia, according to Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Office Director John Saunders. He said 116 people died and 1,225 were seriously injured.

“We must remember, each number is more than a number, and we hear it so many times. It’s much more than a number, it’s a life-changing event,” Saunders said.

DRIVE SMART Virginia also worked on the new law.

“It’s very easy to understand … so, the law says that you cannot hold the phone while driving and that’s it … pure and simple,” DRIVE SMART Virginia Executive Director Janet Brooking told WAVY.

Brooking warned that distracted driving is reaching epidemic status, with the phone being the worst culprit because it involves all three distractions: manual, physical and cognitive.

“We just want you to put the phone in the trunk, or to put it in the glove compartment, and to just not even engage with it,” Brooking said.

Under the new law, however, you can mount a phone or even keep it in the cupholder. You can use apps or talk on the phone, you just have to be hands-free.

If police see a phone in your hand, they can pull you over and it will cost you $125 for the first offense and $250 for any subsequent offenses or if you’re found holding the phone in a work zone.

There are a few exceptions for those operating emergency vehicles or who are reporting an emergency.

You can also use the phone if you’re legally parked — that does not mean stopped at a red light.

You can read more about the exceptions and the new law here.

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