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Virginia’s Secondary Texting While Driving Law

September 18, 2012 by The Parrish Law Firm

It’s old news: distracted driving in general, and texting while driving specifically, has spread like wild fire since the start of the “smart phone era” some five or so years ago, prompting states nationwide to develop legislation banning cell phone use in varying degrees of severity.

The official government website for distracted driving reports that it takes an average of 4.6 seconds to read or write a text message, meaning that the driver’s eyes are away from the road completely for almost 5 seconds. If the driver is moving at 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving an entire football field without taking one look at the road ahead. Texting while driving also increases the chances of an accident by 23 times compared to driving without distraction.

In 2010, around 18 percent of all car accidents in the U.S. were connected to distracted driving in some form. As cell phone use by America’s youth becomes increasingly more common, it is young drivers who may be more likely to text while driving, as they’ve basically grown up with a cell phone in their hand and may be unable to turn it off and keep their eyes on the road. Around 40% of American teenagers have reported that they’ve been in vehicles where the driver was using a cell phone in a manner that endangered other people.

States have responded to the dangerous habit, however, in the form of differing legislation that has banned cell phone use while driving. A total of 39 states have banned all cell phone use for all drivers.

In these cases, the texting while driving ban is what is called a primary law, meaning that an officer can pull over and ticket a driver whose only traffic violation is texting while driving. There is no need for the driver to break any other law (such as speeding) for the officer to make a lawful traffic stop.

In Virginia, things work a little differently. Virginia has a secondary law for texting while driving, meaning that a police officer cannot lawfully pull over a driver who is texting while driving unless the driver is breaking another traffic law (a primary law) that allows the officer to make a lawful traffic stop. Only once an officer has pulled over a driver for a different traffic violation can he or she issue a ticket for texting while driving.

Considering the recent changes to the DWI/DUI law in Virginia this summer that now sees first time offenders installing breathalyzers in their vehicles, as well as the fact that texting while driving impairs the driver just as much, if not more than driving above the legal BAC limit, it’s surprising that we have yet to see the implementation of a more severe texting while driving law.

It may just be a matter of time before texting while driving becomes a primary law in our state. Virginia youth, beware.


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