Most people these days rely on their mobile devices to work, look at media, and keep in touch. We don’t just use our phones to make calls, but also to communicate via text messages and email. However, using a mobile device to send or read emails and text messages while driving in the Commonwealth of Virginia is illegal, and such a traffic infraction may result in a ticket and fee.
Texting While Driving in Virginia
Virginia Code § 46.2-1078.1 defines texting as having two components:
- Manually entering multiple letters or text in your handheld mobile device to communicate with another person
- Reading any email or text that you have received
Doing either of these things while operating a motor vehicle is considered illegal. That means that even if you’re not sending a text, the very act of checking an email or text message previously received and stored on your mobile device is not allowed while you’re driving a vehicle in motion. However, the statute does make it alright to check or send messages when you’re lawfully parked or stopped. It’s also legal to use your cell phone or mobile handheld device to report an emergency to the proper authorities.
2013 Updates to Virginia Law
In 2013, Virginia lawmakers updated existing text bans to make texting while driving a primary offense, even though it had already been considered a traffic infraction for several years. Prior to 2013, texting while driving had been a secondary offense, meaning that you couldn’t be pulled over just for texting: an officer would have needed some other reason to pull you over first. For instance, if you’d been driving erratically or had expired plates, the officer could pull you over for that and also issue a texting citation. Now, since texting is a primary offense, you can be pulled over just for that. If an officer sees you texting, you can be pulled over and cited for no other reason. This law is being enforced; more and more drivers are being pulled over and cited for texting at the wheel.
Virginia Texting While Driving Penalties
Penalties for texting while driving are progressive. That is, a first offense is punishable with a fine of up to $125. Any texting citation after that is punishable by twice that much, a $250 fine. Additionally, texting while driving citations can garner more serious penalties when accompanied by other infractions. For instance, a citation for texting while driving coupled with one for reckless driving results in a mandatory fine of at least $250, as well as the penalties for the reckless driving itself, which may result in jail time and suspension of driving privileges. Some drivers may decide to simply pay the fine, but doing so without challenging the ticket amounts to the same thing as an admission of guilt.
Defending Against Charges
You may be able to avoid the ticket and the fine if you were texting while stopped, or if you were using your device to report an emergency. You may also be able to avoid the ticket if you can prove that you weren’t texting or looking at emails. The statute specifies that it is not illegal to look for caller ID information or consulting your phone’s directory of names and numbers. If the address of your destination was in a contacts list instead of a text or an email, then you cannot be charged with texting while driving.