young driver behind the wheel of a car in the dark with a cellphoneThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified distracted driving in America as a crisis that needs to be addressed. The increasing popularity of cell phones, tablets, GPS units, and other electronic devices in recent years has made drivers more prone to distraction behind the wheel than ever before. This is true across the country and especially in Virginia, where it’s estimated that owners of smart phones use them at some point during more than 80% of their car trips.

According to a study by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), approximately 14% of annual traffic fatalities in our state result from distracted driving. Virginia Tech researchers also reported recently that more than three-quarters of vehicle accidents and more than one-half of “close calls” nationwide involve drivers who are distracted from the safe operation of their vehicles in one or more of three ways:

  • Manual distractions that take a driver’s hands off the steering wheel
  • Visual distractions that take a driver’s eyes off the road and nearby vehicles
  • Cognitive distractions that take a driver’s mind off the safe operation of the vehicle

The most dangerous use of electronic devices is the sending or reading of text messages, which combines all three of these distractions and increases your chances of having an accident by almost 2,500%.

Virginia’s Cell Phone Laws

In response to these statistics, Virginia passed new laws in 2020 regarding cell phone use in motor vehicles.

Handheld Devices Are Prohibited While Driving

As of January 1, 2021, Virginia drivers in moving vehicles are prohibited from holding personal electronic communications devices in their hands. Drivers 18 or older may talk on cell phones while driving, but they must use earphones or speakers to do so. No driver may hold the phone by hand at any time while the vehicle is moving or standing at a stop sign or red light.

Penalties for Violating the Law Are Severe

Drivers who violate the new cell phone laws can be fined $125 for a first offense and $250 for each subsequent offense. Using a cell phone in a highway work zone will result in a $250 fine for a first or subsequent offense. Violation of cell phone laws as part of a reckless driving charge can result in a fine of up to $2,500, a six-month driver’s license suspension, and a 12-month jail sentence. Bus drivers and other commercial vehicle operators who violate cell phone laws can be fined up to $2,750.

Juvenile Drivers Are Prohibited From Using Hands-free Devices as Well

Young people who have grown up with smart phones are more likely than older drivers to keep their phones in their hands all the time. The Liberty Mutual Institute for Safety has reported that more than three-quarters of teenagers surveyed did not consider the use of a phone behind the wheel a distraction. In Virginia, however, it is illegal for a driver under 18 years of age to use a cell phone in any way while the vehicle is moving.

Is it a Primary or Secondary Offense?

Holding a cell phone in your hand to talk or text is a primary offense. You can be pulled over and cited if a police officer sees you with a phone in your hand, regardless of whether you’re violating any other traffic law. The use of a hands-free device by a driver under 18, however, is a secondary offense for which the driver can be cited if pulled over for a primary offense such as speeding or reckless driving.

There Are a Few Exceptions to Cell Phone Laws

Virginia’s new cell phone laws do not apply to drivers who are:

  • Legally stopped or parked (not waiting at a red light or stop sign)
  • Calling to report emergencies to the police or other official personnel
  • Operating emergency vehicles and using phones to carry out official duties
  • Using citizens’ bands or other amateur radio devices
  • Operating Department of Transportation vehicles to carry out traffic incident services

All other cell phone law violators are subject to the penalties listed above.

Accidents Caused by Cell Phone Violators

If you’re injured in an accident caused by a driver illegally using a cell phone, that driver has breached their duty to operate safely and is strictly liable for your medical expenses, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering. To recover compensation for your damages, however, you must be able to prove illegal cell phone use on the part of the at-fault driver.

How an Attorney Can Help You

An experienced car accident lawyer can gain access to the at-fault driver’s cell phone records to determine whether there was cell phone use prior to your crash. If your wreck was caused by the driver of a commercial vehicle, your attorney can obtain data from that vehicle’s “black box” recorder, dashboard camera, and/or other onboard recording devices that might help prove illegal cell phone use.

How You Can Help Your Attorney

You can help your attorney in advance and strengthen your insurance claim for damages by taking the following specific steps immediately after your accident if you’re physically able to do so:

  • Stay at the scene, move to a safe area, and call 9-1-1 to report your accident.
  • Take photos of all vehicles involved, as well as skid marks, road conditions, damaged poles or guard rails, and other evidence at the scene.
  • Exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver(s) but do not argue or discuss the accident.
  • Get contact information from any witnesses to the crash.
  • Note the location of nearby security or red-light cameras that might have footage of the wreck.
  • When the police arrive, answer their questions honestly but don’t volunteer any information that is not requested.
  • Do not apologize or admit any fault for anything to anybody.
  • Notify your own insurance company of the accident.
  • Do not answer any questions or give any statements to adjusters from the at-fault driver’s insurer.
  • Do not post anything on social media about your accident or injuries.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if you don’t feel you’re seriously injured. A physician’s exam and diagnostic testing can reveal hidden injuries, get you started on treatment for a quick recovery, and provide crucial documentation of the injuries you’ve suffered in the accident.
  • Contact a car accident lawyer for a consultation to evaluate your case.

Have You Been Hurt in a Crash Involving Illegal Cell Phone Use?

An experienced car accident attorney can help you prove a cell phone law violation and seek fair compensation. Contact us online, start a chat, or call us at 540-341-0007 to schedule your free consultation. You pay no attorney fees until we win your case.

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