If you live in Virginia you're probably aware of the new hands-free cell phone law that went in place on January 1, 2021 (Virginia Code § 46.2-818.2). In basic terms, this new law states that it's illegal to hold a cell phone while driving. That includes texting, talking on the phone, scrolling, or even changing the music on your phone. These are all considered a form of distracted driving.
There are of course exceptions. It's not illegal if you're parked or stopped at a red light, however as soon as the light turns green you can be charged with a traffic infraction if you continue to hold the phone. Other exceptions include anyone reporting an emergency, driving an emergency vehicle, or using the CB radio for work.
Using Bluetooth with your car or voice commands are encouraged. You should make it a habit to connect your phone to your vehicle before you begin your journey so you don't have to fumble with it while driving.
What are the fines for distracted driving?
If it's your first offense you'll be fined $125. If this isn't your first rodeo, you'll be fined $250. If you're driving distracted in a work zone, it's automatically a $250 fine regardless of any previous infractions. Additionally, you can be charged with reckless driving if the officer feels you were endangering the lives of others. If this is the case, there's a mandatory fine of $250.
Will a distracted driving citation in Virginia increase my insurance premium?
Absolutely! Distracted driving infractions are added to your driving record just like other infractions like speeding. It's almost certain your insurance carrier will find out and raise your insurance rates.
The amount your rates will increase depends on a few things, so it's difficult for us to give you an exact amount here. Your insurance carrier will have their own assessment protocol based on a few factors like your driving history. On average, rates tend to go up about $165 a year but your situation may be different.
Additionally, if you have a Safe Driver discount in place (like Nationwide's SmartRide program), you can plan on that discount being taken away. Any kind of distracted driving infraction sends your insurance carrier the message that you're willing to increase your risk of getting into an accident.
Why do insurance companies raise rates when there's an infraction?
It might seem like adding insult to injury, but they're not doing it just to punish you. Insurance carriers calculate your insurance premiums based on a risk assessment. They essentially ask, how likely is this person to get into an accident or make a claim? Obviously the more claims you make, the more money the insurance carrier has to pay out.
If you have a safe record but suddenly get a distracted driving infraction, that tells the insurance company that you are now more likely to get into an accident than before. They increase the premium to make up for the increase in risk. When it's time for your next annual review, you can ask your insurance agent to shop your rate again. If you have no other infractions in that time, your agent may be able to find you a lower rate.
What can I do with this information?
To put it simply, put the phone down. It's not worth the risk to others and yourself to drive distracted. Looking at your phone even just for one second while you're driving puts you at a greater risk of getting into an accident, or worse, injuring or killing someone else.
If you have to use the phone and don't have a vehicle with Bluetooth or voice command features, simply pull your car over outside of traffic, like into a parking lot, to make the phone call or text.
These distracted driving laws exist for a reason: to protect us. If we all follow these simple rules we can make the roads a much safer place to be on.