What to Know About the New Cell Phone Law in Virginia

The Hands Free Driving Law

I’m sure you have heard by now that Virginia enacted new laws in 2020 directly targeting the use of cell phones while driving. Here’s what you need to know about Virginia Code Section 46.2-818.2 Use of handheld personal communications devices in certain motor vehicles.

What is the new Virginia cell phone use driving law?

Virginia Code Section 46.2-818.2 states in part:

“It is unlawful for any person, while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in [Virginia], to hold a handheld personal communication device.”

This language is broader than you might expect. Not only does the law prohibit you from texting or writing emails, but it prohibits you from even having your phone in your hand; this law requires the driver to be completely hands free. According to the new driving law, you can’t hold the phone up to your ear and talk, you can’t hold a phone while using Google directions, and you can’t even have your phone on speaker in your hand and talk.  All of these actions that involve holding a cell phone are now illegal in Virginia.

When does the hands free cell phone driving law go into effect?

The new law went into effect on January 1, 2021. So put down the phone!

What are the consequences of a violation of the hands free driving law?

Violation of this law constitutes a traffic infraction, much like a speeding ticket. For a first offense, violation is punishable by a $125 fine. For each offense thereafter, by a fine of $250. The fine is automatically $250 if you are caught holding a phone in a work zone.

Exceptions of the Virginia hands free driving law

Of course there are always exceptions to laws and a couple of interesting loopholes in this particular case; such as:

  1. If you are stopped or parked, the law does not apply. This is an interesting exemption because it allows drivers stopped at stoplights, in traffic, or at intersections to hold their phones.
  2. Remember, this law only applies to holding a phone, not using a phone. This is an important distinction. Presumably, you can have your phone in your lap and read emails. Of course, if you cause a crash while doing so, you are still negligent for failing to “keep a proper lookout,” but you are not in violation of the new law (46.2-818.2.)
  3. Emergency personnel are exempted so long as they are “engaged in the performance of” their duties.  Does this sound like a police officer in a high-speed pursuit can check his text messages?  Sure does. Do emergency personnel have special abilities that allow them to text and drive that the rest of us do not? No, but it doesn’t matter, this exemption is law. 
  4. Importantly, you can use your phone to report an emergency while you are driving.

Other new Virginia driving laws

A few other interesting traffic related laws and driving laws in Virginia changed recently.

  1. They bumped up the threshold for reckless driving to 85mph from 80mph. It used to be that driving over 80mph was automatically a reckless driving offense. Now, if the speed limit is 65mph, you must be clocked going over 85mph in order to be charged with reckless driving.  Remember, driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit still constitutes reckless driving. For example, driving 50mph in a 25mph will still result in a reckless ticket.
  2. Starting July 1, 2021, drivers must stop and yield to pedestrians. This may not sound new, but it is. Drivers must stop and yield to anyone waiting to cross in a crosswalk.

Be careful out there on the roads! Exercise caution and make sure your phone is down and your hands are free while driving in Virginia.

In the event that you or someone you know has been injured in a crash, please don’t hesitate to call us. We are here to help.