Virginia has been slow to respond in reforming the Commonwealth’s distracted driving laws. This basically means that Virginia has shown a more relaxed attitude towards cell phone use and texting while driving than many other jurisdictions. While the attitude is somewhat relaxed, especially in a state that is somewhat infamous for its tough traffic law enforcement stance, it does not mean that cell phone usage and texting while driving go without punishment. Moreover, when it comes to accidents, the law treats distracted driving quite seriously.
Virginia’s Law on Cell Phone Usage While Driving
Virginia actually does have some cell phone laws on the books, although many Virginians are not aware of them.
First, it is illegal for any driver to text while driving. It is classified as a secondary violation for adult drivers, however. This means that a police officer cannot pull a driver over for it but can instead cite an infraction if the driver is pulled over for another reason. It is punishable by a fine of $125 for a first offense and a $250 fine for subsequent offenses.
Second, it is legal to talk on a cell phone while driving unless the driver is under 18 years old or is a bus driver. This applies to both hands-free and handheld devices. For minors and those driving a bus, this is a primary infraction, which means that the police can pull over a driver for suspicion of a violation.
This, however, is not where the law ends.
Cell Phone Usage and Accidents
What happens if a driver is using a cell phone and is involved in an accident? A Fairfax County judge has ruled that texting and driving and being involved in an accident cannot be charged as reckless driving. The fact that a judge has ruled on it means that a prosecutor was willing to try it. This does not mean that in another courtroom, a driver who causes an accident while talking or texting on a cell phone cannot be charged this way. Under the Virginia reckless driving law, a driver can be convicted by driving recklessly so as to endanger the life, limb, and property of others. Given this definition and the plethora of data out there that demonstrate how dangerous texting and driving can be, all it takes is a willing prosecutor and a willing judge to make this type of charge stick. An example of this type of logical progression can be found in some DUI cases in Virginia where a repeat offender or extreme DUI violator has actually been charged with murder in a DUI accident. It is not a long stretch of the imagination to apply the same logic to texting and driving accidents.
While the specific behavior of texting and driving is not considered reckless driving, it certainly could be. If you have been involved in an accident while texting and driving, you shouldn’t leave your legal future to the goodwill and nice intentions of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Jad Sarsour is an experienced and trial-tested criminal defense attorney. If you find yourself in this situation in Northern Virginia, give him a call today at (571) 261-7314 to set up your initial consultation. He can analyze the facts in your case and prepare the best defense possible whether you are charged with reckless driving or another serious traffic offense.