Virginia Drivers Should Think Twice Before Typing or Reading a $125 E-mail or Text Message

Forty-one (41) states have banned texting while driving for all drivers.[1] Of those forty-one states, thirty-nine (39) have made texting while driving a primary offense, which means that an officer may stop a driver solely for texting while driving.[2] Virginia has officially joined those thirty-nine states and (effective July 1, 2013) has made it a primary offense to communicate through handheld communication devices while driving.[3] As a Virginia driver, this law affects you and therefore, you may have questions about the application and possible consequences of violating this law.

  1. To what “communications” does this law apply? The law prohibits using a handheld personal communication device to type any message for the purpose of communicating with another person. The law also prohibits reading messages transmitted to (or stored within) the device. Although the law does not specifically list every type of prohibited communication, the law expressly mentions text-messaging and emails and is broad enough to include activities such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  2. What is the penalty? The law provides two tiers of penalties. For a first-time offender, the fine is $125. However, for any subsequent offense, the fine is increased to $250 (double the amount charged to for the first offense).
  3. Can I still text at stoplights? The law provides several exceptions (listed below), one of which is for “an operator who is lawfully parked or stopped.”
  4. Are there any exceptions? The law provides several exceptions. They are:
    1. Reading a name/number already stored in the device (contact list)
    2. Reading the caller identification when answering a call
    3. The operator of an emergency vehicle while engaged in the performance of his official duties
    4. A driver who is lawfully parked or stopped
    5. Global positioning systems (GPS). These include factory-installed and handheld GPS systems, as well as GPS programs on certain wireless communication devices.
    6. Using the device to report an emergency
  5. What is a “primary” offense?  Before July 1, 2013, texting and driving was considered a “secondary offense,” which means that a police officer needed a reason other than texting to stop the driver. Now, a police officer is permitted to stop a driver simply because they are seen using their handheld personal communication device while operating a vehicle.

As a Virginia driver, it is important that you make yourself familiar with these laws so that you may fully comply with the state driving laws. Ultimately, you should think twice before you send a text message that could cost you $125, or worse… cause an accident.

- Jake Balderson