There are multiple different distractions that can occur while driving. For some, simply talking with a passenger or reaching for a dropped item could result in a car accident. However, Virginia legislators have recently turned their attention to handheld cell phoneuse. Gov. Northam recently signed a bill that makes such use while driving a traffic violation.
The bill makes using handheld cellphones while driving a primary offense, allowing police to stop drivers who they see on their phones. A first offense is a $125 fine with a second offense resulting in a $250 fine. Handheld use while in a construction zone is also a $250 fine. Though the new law is technically in effect currently, it will not be enforced until Jan. 2021 to allow time to educate the public. Drivers may still use voice-activated services such as Siri.
Proponents of the law claim that it will save lives, arguing that distracted driving is a factor in 1,500 accidents in Virginia each year, resulting in seven to 10 fatalities. However, one study showed that similar laws resulted in no significant changes in reports of distracted driving accidents in two areas. Others, such as Black Caucus members in Virginia, expressed concerns that the law would result in "over-policing" drivers who are Black, prompting an additional requirement that police departments must release statistics on stops and undergo training on implicit biases.
For many drivers in Virginia, a fine such as this can have a significant financial impact. Unfortunately, it is possible that police officers may see an item in someone's hand that they believe to be a cellphone but is actually an allowed item. Often, those who face traffic violations choose to consult with an experienced attorney before deciding how to respond to the allegations against them.