Va. drivers will now get mandatory fine for distracted driving in highway work zones

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — As many of you get ready to travel for the July Fourth holiday, keep in mind the Commonwealth’s newest texting and driving law.

Texting and driving have been banned since 2013 in Virginia. It’s treated as a primary offense. That means if an officer thinks you’re doing it, they can pull you over on the road.

Usually, a driver is fined $125 for a first offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses.

Because of a new law, HB1525, that went into effect on July 1, if you’re caught texting or reading an email while driving near a highway work zone when “workers are present,” you’ll face a “mandatory” $250 fine. 

These areas are especially dangerous for VDOT workers and contractors. 

“Anybody that has worked construction has had a close call,” said Chief Deputy Commissioner of VDOT Rob Cary. “They have to watch out because they just know that so many people are driving down the road not paying attention.” 

Distracted driving is on the mind of Cary and many others with the department.

“There’s nothing between that vehicle and them, except a vest. I mean, really, if they get hit by a car, they’re going to lose,” he said.

The executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia Janet Brooking agrees, calling work zones “inherently dangerous.”

“Unlike normal road conditions, work zones involve large equipment, traffic pattern changes, lane closures, uneven pavement, variable speed limits, and – most importantly – workers. That’s a volatile environment,” Brooking said. “Work zone injuries and fatalities in Virginia had a dangerous spike last year. Fatalities rose 20%, Injuries increased 6%.”

So far this year, there have been 150 distracted driving-related crashes in work zones across the Commonwealth, according to the DMV. Two were deadly. 

“Really a tragedy to see that before your own eyes,” Cary said. 

One of the people killed was 25-year-old Dustin Michael Warden of Carson, Virginia. He was out of his vehicle, setting up a shoulder closure for a mobile work zone when police say 27-year-old Samantha Hughes of Wilmington, North Carolina took her eyes off the road for a second and hit him.

Cary went to the funeral and met Warden’s family. It hurt him seeing the crash cause Warden’s parents, his girlfriend and toddler to lose the young man.

“All he did was go to work. He went to work and did his job, and he got killed because of distraction,” Cary added.

Cary and advocates hope this new law deters people from picking up their phones behind the wheel.

“Put your phone done and pay attention to driving. We have hundreds and hundreds of employees and contractors working across the state,” he said. 

A reminder – keep your eyes on the road – so others can go home for the holiday. 

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