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New law effective Jan. 1: holding cell phone while driving is illegal

Effective Jan. 1, 2021, it is illegal to hold a handheld personal communications device (e.g., a smartphone) while driving a moving motor vehicle on Virginia highways. This new law is one of many ways the state is buckling down on distracted driving.

The Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles noted that in 2019, there were 120 deaths, 13,258 injuries and 34,850 crashes attributed to distracted driving, including using a mobile phone. The new law, passed in July 2020, attempts to address this growing problem.

While driving, it will be illegal to hold a mobile device in your hand while doing some activities, such as:

• Dial a phone number
• Send a text message
• Update/browse social media
• Video conference
• Shop online
• Watch movies
• Check the weather
• Play games

Drivers who are pulled over for holding a handheld personal communications device are advised to act in the same manner as for any other traffic stop. You will not be asked to hand the device over to the officer. The police department stressed that what you are doing with the device is irrelevant, it is the act of holding the device while driving that is illegal.

A driver who violates 46.2-818.2 is subject to a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 for the second and subsequent offenses.

A driver who is convicted of reckless driving who was also in violation of 46.2-818.2 when committing the offense can be fined up to $2,500, and receive up to 12 months in jail, and up to a six-month license suspension, but shall be fined a mandatory minimum fine of $250. A driver who violates this law while driving in a highway work zone shall be fined $250.

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