Virginia Texting Laws

Virginia Distracted Driving Laws

  1. Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers (Primary Law).
  2. Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
  3. Ban on texting for all drivers (Secondary Law; Primary Law for bus drivers).

Virginia’s Texting While Driving Stand

A Virginia House subcommittee has yet to pass any bills this year that would strengthen the state’s existing distracted driving laws. The Senate, in the meantime, has moved forward and approved legislation in February which makes texting while driving a primary offense in the state of Virginia.

A subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee considered eight bills on Jan. 26 but none of the proposals were moved forward. Virginia’s current law, which went into effect in 2009, prohibits all drivers from sending or reading text messages while driving. Violators are charged $20 for the first offense and $50 for additional offenses. The law also prohibits drivers under 18 and school bus drivers from using cell phones or sending text messages while driving. Texting while driving is currently a secondary offense, which means that drivers can be cited for breaking this law only if they are pulled over for another violation.

Among the bills weighed by the subcommittee on Jan. 26 was one that would make the current law of text messaging while driving a primary offense. The measure proposed by Democrats David Bulova of Fairfax, Kaye Kory of Falls Church and Vivian Watts of Annandale along with Republican Dave Albo, of Springfield, would allow police to stop drivers solely for the reason of texting while driving. Republican Richard Anderson of Woodbridge, faced the same rejection when he attempted to elevate the current law by making texting and driving a primary offense.

A bill presented by Tom Rust, R-Herndon, that enabled police to stop drivers solely on the basis of texting and emailing while driving, was defeated by the subcommittee. Subcommittee members Algie Howell, D-Norfolk, and Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, proposed separate but similar legislation. Both bills would make it a primary offense for drivers and bicycle riders to use cell phones and other personal communication devices. Violators would be fined $20 for the first offense and $50 for additional offenses.

Watts submitted another piece of legislation that discouraged drivers from freshening up while behind the wheel of their vehicles. First, Watts’ bill would require drivers to use hands-free devices when making and receiving cell phone calls or when reading text messages while driving. The bill further prohibited drivers from grooming themselves or taking care of their personal hygiene needs while driving.

Republican Delegate Bobby Orrock, of Caroline, failed to move the subcommittee with a bill that was similar to Watts’ measure. According to Orrock, the measure was intended to include all types of distractions such as putting on makeup and eating food while driving.

Initially, it seemed as if 2012 would follow the trend of the previous two years of not having any new or upgraded distracted driving laws pass the House of Delegates or the state Senate. However, that trend appeared to break in February when legislation introduced by Senator George Barker, D-Fairfax, cleared the full Senate. Barker’s bill, which makes it a primary offense to text while driving, passed by a 28-12 vote. Before heading to the full Senate, the measure was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in January followed by the Courts of Justice Committee in February.

This is the second distracted driving bill of Barker’s that the Senate approved. In January, Barker’s measure to make it a primary offense for provisional drivers, who are 18 years old and under, to text or use a cell phone while driving was passed by a vote of 30-10.

Over the past three years, new distracted driving measures have been introduced by House members but the bills have not made it out of committee. Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, reportedly said he prefers that police focus on using existing reckless driving statutes which covers a wide range of driving activities.

Fairfax County police have been doing just that while politicians grapple with passing new laws. In September 2010, the police launched a nine-month campaign that targeted distracted drivers under the older law that cites drivers for not paying attention while driving. Officers were posted on roads that had high volumes of traffic and a high number of crashes.

As police crackdown on distracted driving under existing laws, Barker’s new measure is under consideration in the House of Delegates. It has yet to be determined whether the legislation will pass or is rejected like the other eight bills the House subcommittee considered in January.