Virginia votes to ban handheld cellphone use while driving

February 12, 2019

Come Jan. 1, 2020, it will be illegal to use a cellphone while while at the wheel of a car in Virginia. Both houses in the General Assembly voted to pass new legislation to ban cellphone use while driving to curb distracted driving in the state.

The Washington Post reported last week that drivers will face fines under the new law should an officer spot a driver tapping away at a cellphone. First offenders will receive a fine for $125, a fine that escalates to $250 for additional offenses. The legislation builds upon Virginia's current law that bans texting while driving. Democratic State Senator Scott A. Surovell said the current law still technically made it possible for drivers to "chase Pokémon, play ‘Angry Birds’ or make Snapchat videos while driving."

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The new law does leave some wiggle room for drivers that may make it a challenge to enforce. The law does not keep motorists from looking at their GPS, for example, and drivers can still handle their phones when at a stoplight.

Studies have shown these types of bans have been effective in decreasing the number of distracted drivers and lower overall phone use has occurred with time. Yet the bans haven't affected the number of crashes. Research showed varied results after states enacted total bans on cellphone usage behind the wheel. While the number of drivers using their phones dropped, the drivers who continued to use their phones were doing more with them. 

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Smartphones offer far more ways to distract drivers than just phone calls and text messages Researchers found more drivers still using phones while driving are now poking, typing, pressing buttons, or handing their phones to use various apps that may or may not be related to driving. Experts say that this has led to an increase in the number of deaths attributed to distracted driving between 2014 and 2017.

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