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Texting and driving becomes a primary offense in Virginia

Starting today, police will be able to pull drivers over if they suspect a person is texting while driving.

A new law takes effect across the state on July 1 granting authorities power to pull over a driver suspected of texting behind the wheel.

Prior to today’s new law, texting while driving was illegal, but it was considered a secondary offense meaning officers had to have another reason for stopping a vehicle.

Starting today that changes when texting becomes a primary offense, so police will be able to pull drivers over on the suspicion a person is texting while driving.

Under the new law, a person cannot send or read emails or text messages while the vehicle is moving. 

However, if the driver has pulled over on the side of the road or is legally stopped at a red light, that person can send or read text messages or emails. Once the car is back in motion, that activity is no longer legal.

According to Virginia State Police Public Relations Director Corinne Geller, state troopers must observe “illegal conduct” and have reasonable suspicion before initiating a traffic stop for texting violations.

In April, Virginia lawmakers overwhelmingly passed HB1907 making texting behind the wheel a primary traffic offense. The new law allows police officers to pull and cite drivers for texting behind the wheel without first having to witness them violating another law, and those who are ticketed also will face steeper penalties.  

Drivers who enter multiple letters or text as a means to communicate or who read a text message or email are guilty under the new statute.   

Fines for a first offense are $125 and $250 for a second or subsequent offense. Drivers convicted of reckless driving who are also texting could face a $250 fine.  

“This new law will help traffic safety advocates across Virginia remind drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their mind on the task of driving,” said Debbie Pickford, Board Chair – DRIVE SMART Virginia.  “Education and strong enforcement are key components to successfully reducing distraction related crashes.”

 

Other changes

Motorists in Virginia who text behind-the-wheel aren’t the only ones who will see changes on Monday. 

Teen drivers and moped operators will be required to adhere to new traffic safety laws as of July 1 too; that includes the nearly 970,000 who are expected to hit Virginia roads for the upcoming July 4th holiday.   

Just three days before the official start of the holiday weekend, teen drivers and moped operators will all be required to adhere to new laws passed by law makers during the 2013 General Assembly Session. 

Traffic safety advocates believe that the new laws will positively impact safety on Virginia roads.  

“These new laws address and raise awareness about some of the biggest dangers drivers face every day,” said John Saunders, director of Highway Safety for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. “We know distractions like texting lead to crashes, it is important teenage drivers learn to drive safely and responsibly, and mopeds are some of the smallest vehicles sharing our roads, so safety is a top priority.”

Provisional driver licensees (under the age of 18) restricted to fewer passengers

SB 1165 (Senator Steve Newman),  limits the number of passengers who can ride with a first year provision licensee (unless accompanied by a parent who holds a valid driver’s license and is in the front passenger seat) to one who is less than 21 years old.   

After the first year the provisional license may drive with up to three passengers who are less than 21 years old only if driving to or from a school-sponsored activity, or licensed driver who is at least 21 years old is occupying the seat beside the driver, or in an emergency. 

The current law allows no more than one passenger under the age of 18 for the first year and no more than three passengers under the age of 18 until the driver’s 18th birthday. 

Both the current and new laws provided exceptions for passengers who are members of the driver’s family/household.

 “Novice drivers are just that — novices, rookies, beginners — thus they need as much focused practice behind the wheel as possible before they gain the freedom to drive without any restrictions,” said Martha Meade of AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “Statistics prove that limiting passengers for new drivers reduces their crash risk, thus this law is one more positive step forward in the fight to save precious young lives in Virginia.” 

 Moped operators must wear helmets/use eye protection, carry government issued ID and register vehicles (SB1038)

Beginning July 1, Virginia law requires every moped driver to carry a government-issued photo ID (does not have to be a driver’s license), and every moped driver and passenger must wear a helmet. Drivers also must wear a face shield, safety glasses or goggles unless the moped has a windshield.

Virginia law will now require mopeds operated on Virginia roadways to be titled and registered by July 1, 2014, but moped owners can jump start the process this summer. 

DMV will begin titling and registering mopeds on July 1. A moped title is $10. The annual registration fee is $20.25.

 “Under current law, the lack of any identifying information on a moped makes them nearly impossible to recover after theft and complicates identification of the vehicle and operator in the event of a crash,” said John Saunders, DMV’s director of Highway Safety. “For example, a member of the law enforcement community recounted a situation where it took a few days to identify a victim who had died in a moped crash because there was no identifying information on the victim or moped.”

 

Crash data/enforcement:

Whether drivers are operating a moped, motorcycle, car, truck or any other vehicle, motorists should focus on the task of driving and help keep themselves and other drivers on the road safe this Fourth of July holiday. The 2012 Fourth of July holiday period was from July 4 through July 8. During this time period there were:

  1,393 crashes and 10 fatalities

  144 or 10 percent of the crashes were alcohol-related and 3 or 30 percent of the fatalities were alcohol-related

  286 or 21 percent of the crashes were speed-related and 6 or 60 percent of the fatalities were speed-related

  599 or 43 percent of the crashes occurred between noon and 6 p.m., but 5 or 50 percent of the fatalities occurred between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m.

  71 percent of the fatalities were unbelted

 There was one pedestrian fatality and three motorcycle fatalities 

Unfortunately, the Fourth of July holiday weekend is also considered one of the deadliest holidays during the year because of crashes involving intoxicated drivers. To ensure safety on the road, motorists can expect to see increased patrols and enforcement by the Virginia State Police.

 “Too many lives are lost or changed forever because of the careless decision by an individual to drive drunk,” said Lt. Colonel Robert B. Northern, Virginia State Police deputy superintendent. “By having extra troopers on our interstates and roadways, we want to make certain drivers are paying attention. Motorists are advised to slow down and obey the speed limits, drive distraction free and drive defensively, not aggressively. If they don’t, they can be assured our troopers will vigilantly enforce the traffic laws to make sure they do.”

DMV’s Virginia Highway Safety Office reminds Virginians to designate a sober driver before the Fourth of July celebration begins. To prevent a tragedy from occurring this Fourth of July holiday, do not drive after drinking any alcohol, period. Even one drink can adversely affect a driver’s reaction time and his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle. With the added traffic during the summer months, be sure to designate a sober driver before heading to your cook-out or Independence Day celebration.