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Texting While Driving – Now a Primary Offense in Virginia

Posted By Regan Zambri & Long || 31-Jul-2013

Posted by: Salvatore J. Zambri, founding member andpartner

As of July 1, 2013, Virginia strengthened its driving laws to include a section making texting while driving a primary offense. According to Section 46.2-1078, it is now unlawful for "any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communication device to:

  1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
  2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored within the device nor to any caller identification information."

According to Virginia’s 2009 anti-texting law, texting while driving was considered a secondary offense, which meant that a police officer could not stop a driver for that reason alone. In an effort to crack down on distracted driving, texting while driving in Virginia is now a primary offense according to the recently enacted anti-texting law. The fine for a first texting offense is $125.00 (as opposed to $20.00 previously), and the fine increases to $250.00 for subsequent violations. In some cases, it can also now be considered reckless driving with an additional fine of $500.00.

State officials are working to initiate a training program to promote a uniform approach to enforcement, according to the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. The new law will create challenges in enforcement until the courts decide how to interpret the law and determine what kinds of evidence will be required for conviction. In the meantime, because drivers can be stopped by police for phone use, it is expected that there will be more arrests for driving while intoxicated, possession of drugs, driving on a suspended license, and other offenses.

Unlike many states that have banned phone use while driving, Virginia still allows drivers to use cell phones, creating a more difficult situation for enforcement than in other states. The Governors Highway Safety Association noted that Virginia is a tough state to enact highway safety laws and heralded the new law as a important step. In 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in recommending that cellphone use by drivers be prohibited, summarized, "No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life." According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), text messaging is now banned in 41 states. The IIHS maintains, "Distracted driving is a big problem, but it’s bigger than just phone use. Even if a law were successful in stopping phone use and texting, it wouldn’t eliminate distracted driving."

Because I feel strongly about the dangers of distracted driving, for a number of years I have been giving seminars to local area schools on the issue of distracted driving. The message to the students is simple: you owe an obligation to yourself, your passengers, others on the road, as well as to your families and friends who would be devastated as a result of any injury you caused, to drive safely. Cars are lethal weapons. Drive to stay alive.

Please be careful on the road and don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to learn more about my presentations concerning distracted driving. You can call me at (202) 822-1899 or email me at szambri@reganfirm.com

About the author:

Mr. Zambri is a board-certified civil trial attorney by the National Board of Trial Advocates and a Past-President of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. The association recently named him "Trial Lawyer of the Year" (2011). He has been rated by Washingtonian magazine as a "Big Gun" and among the "top 1%" of all lawyers in the Washington metropolitan area. The magazine also describes him as "one of Washington’s best–most honest and effective lawyers" who specializes in personal injury matters, including automobile accident claims, premises liability, product liability, medical malpractice, and work-accident claims. He has successfully litigated multiple cases against truck and bus companies, the Washington Metropolitan Area transit Authority, and other automobile owners. His law firm, in fact, has obtained the largest settlement ever in a personal injury case involving WMATA. Mr. Zambri has also been acknowledged as one of "The Best Lawyers in America" by Best Lawyers (2013 edition) and has been repeatedly named a "Super Lawyer" by Super Lawyer magazine (March/April 2013)– national publications that honor the top lawyers in America.

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