Governor Northam signed a new reckless driving bill into law last summer banning drivers from using handheld cell phones. The law went into effect the first of the year, and police are busily issuing tickets to drivers with a phone clamped to their ears or in their hands.
At Bain Sheldon, we represent those accused of violating traffic laws. We are pleased that the legislature has decided to crack down on cell phone use. Ample studies show that talking on a phone decreases a person’s attention and slows their reflexes. Nevertheless, the police can go overboard handing out citations when a person has not really broken the law. Contact one of our Richmond, VA traffic defense lawyers for a free case evaluation.
What the Law Prohibits
You can find the law at Virginia Code § 46.2-818.2. It makes it illegal for a person to hold a “handheld personal communications device” while driving a motor vehicle on the highways. A prohibited device is any cell phone or smartphone but can also include pagers. A violation is a traffic infraction.
As you can see, the law only applies if you are driving a vehicle on the highways. If you are not driving, or the vehicle is not moving, then you have violated the law.
Penalties for Violations
The penalties a driver faces if stopped will depend on the number of prior violations, as well as other factors:
- For a first offense: $125 fine
- For a second offense: $250 fine
- If caught in a work zone on the highway, a driver faces a mandatory $250 fine
Motorists will also receive three points on their license in many cases, which can lead to more expensive insurance and ultimately a license suspension depending on your record.
Exceptions to the Law
The law is generally applicable to the public. But it does contain some commonsense exceptions. For example, anyone who drives an emergency vehicle is exempted in an emergency. This includes firefighters and emergency medical technicians driving an ambulance. Drivers for the Department of Transportation are also exempted.
A driver using a device to report a crime or emergency has not violated the law, either. This makes sense, as the person is doing the public a favor by reporting a dangerous incident.
Other exemptions apply to those using an amateur radio and those stopped or parked lawfully on the highway, such as on the side of the road. Unless an exception applies to you, you should not make a call.
Complying with the Law
Far too many people talk on their phones while driving. Many claim that it is easier for them to multitask behind the wheel, but research shows that any distraction increases the risk of a collision.
To abide by the new reckless driving law, you should never use your cell phone or other device while driving. Pull over to the side of the road to make or answer a call. Pull over even if you only want to read a text message or an email.
Another option is to use a “hands free” device, such as a Bluetooth, to make calls while your vehicle is moving. Nevertheless, carrying on a conversation while driving does increase distraction, even if it is legal.
For those struggling to break the text-and-drive addiction, consider locking your phone in the trunk of your car. (The glove compartment is too close, and you’ll be tempted to reach in and get your phone.) You can also download apps that prevent texting while driving.
Our Richmond, VA Traffic Defense Attorneys Are Standing By
Bain Sheldon represents men and women who have been accused of violating traffic regulations, including reckless driving. Although you might consider just paying the fine, this choice could be a mistake. Many people will pay too much in insurance or lose their licenses as a result. Contact us to schedule a free consultation. We represent clients throughout Central Virginia, including in Petersburg, Glen Allen, Mechanicsville, Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, Goochland, New Kent, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, Powhatan, Prince George and Ashland.