Next time you stop at a red light, look around. Chances are you’ll see every driver grab at their phone to check messages, scroll Instagram and more. The thing is, we all know using a phone while driving is illegal in Virginia, but all too often we’re asked if drivers can legally use their phone while stopped at a red light. The answer to this question is not as straightforward as you may think.
The law in Virginia states that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using a handheld personal communications device. This includes talking on the phone, texting, and emailing. The purpose of this law is to prevent distracted driving, which can lead to accidents and fatalities on the road. In fact, 14% of fatal accidents occur due to the use of phones on the road. While the law very clearly prohibits the use of handheld devices while driving, it does not specifically address the use of phones at red lights. So, is it legal to use your phone when fully stopped?
In the state of Virginia, traffic lights are considered part of the roadway, and drivers are required to obey all traffic rules one would while driving. This means that if you are stopped at a red light, you are still considered to be operating a motor vehicle and are expected to follow the same laws as if your vehicle was moving.
The short answer: Using your phone at a red light is illegal in Virginia, and you can be fined if you are caught. The fine for a first offense is $125, while following offenses can result in fines of up to $250.
It’s also important to note that using your phone at a red light can still be dangerous. While you may not be moving, you are still operating a motor vehicle and need to be aware of your surroundings. If the light changes while you are distracted by your phone, you may not react quickly enough and the impatient driver behind you may cause an accident.
To avoid any legal or safety issues, avoid using your phone altogether while driving, whether you are moving or stopped at a red light. If you need to use your phone for any reason, pull over to a safe location and park your car before doing so. Nowadays, smartphones have driving features to help you keep your hands off your phone. They also silence all notifications until you reach your destination. Apple’s driving focus and Android’s driving mode are useful tools designed to keep you safe.
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While the law in Virginia does not explicitly prohibit the use of phones at red lights, using your phone while stopped at a red light is just bad news. We know you’ve heard it a million times before, but no text or Instagram post is worth your life. Drive safely and if you’re a passenger in a vehicle, be vocal and tell the driver to put their phone down.
If you have been involved in a car accident due to phone usage or the negligence of others, give us a call today for a free legal case evaluation at (571) 229 – 1800.