Annually compiled distracted driving facts show that approximately 20 percent of Virginia traffic accidents each year are related to texting and driving or other in-vehicle distractions. These auto accidents cost Virginia residents time, money and, too often, their lives.

In attempts to cut down dangerous driving behaviors, the state has passed several laws that impose serious and escalating consequences on motorists caught engaging in unsafe mobile device usage.

Virginia distracted driving law places particular emphasis on policing texting and young, inexperienced motorists. Young and novice drivers are at elevated risk for accidents and their consequences compared to more experienced motorists. State laws against distracted driving do not fully encompass all nationally recommended safety standards, however.

Most notably, they fail to outlaw using a handheld device that compromises the laws’ ability to fully address state issues with the hazards of operating a vehicle on public roads while distracted.

What is distracted driving in Virginia?

Legal and motor vehicle authorities in Virginia relied on well-known facts about distracted driving when establishing the state definition. As a result, Virginia legal and educational materials recognize that use of electronic devices, such as texting while driving, is only one of the many common forms of distraction drivers routinely face.

Anything that diverts drivers’ focus from the road or reduces their control over their vehicles qualifies as a distraction. This includes:

  • Engaging with passengers in unsafe ways.
  • Non-driving-related activities such as eating, shaving or applying makeup that take motorists’ hands off the wheel.
  • Fiddling with stereos, environmental settings or personal belongings.
  • Stress, personal issues or daydreaming which cause drivers’ attention to wander.

This definition inherently acknowledges that laws can never be sufficient, in and of themselves, to fully stop distracted driving. To avoid the tragic consequences for distracted driving, it is ultimately up to each individual motorist to choose to engage in safe driving practices.

Distracted Driving Laws in Virginia for Handheld Devices

Virginia laws on distracted driving do not include blanket bans on handheld devices. Although they state that there is to be no texting and driving, talking on the phone while driving is permitted with no requirement that hands-free devices be employed.

However, penalties may still apply if motorists are caught using devices in ways that substantially impair their abilities to operate their vehicles safely.

Texting and Driving Laws in Virginia

Virginia texting while driving laws prohibit all drivers from sending, receiving, reading or composing any text-based communication via their mobile devices while driving. Texting while driving is a primary offense in Virginia, which means that law enforcement officers can pull a driver over solely for the purpose of issuing a distracted driving ticket even if the motorist has committed no other violations.

Importantly, state laws on texting and driving cover all forms of text-based communication, not just instant messaging. This means that offenders can be issued a traffic ticket for typing an email, posting to a social media site and other unsafe text-related use while driving at any time.

Virginia Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers

Texting and driving accidents in Virginia are particularly prevalent among motorists who are new or young. This is in part because these drivers lack the comfort and experience that typically leads to improved control over one’s vehicle and faster reaction times in emergencies.

To help mitigate potentially fatal texting accidents among this at-risk population, Virginia driving laws forbid the use of mobile electronic devices by motorists younger than 18 years of age except in emergency circumstances. The prohibition encompasses hands-free device use as well.

Unfortunately, minors do not consistently face the legal effects of texting and driving or otherwise illicitly using their devices behind the wheel. Cell phone use by minor motorists is a secondary law in Virginia, which means it can only be enforced when law enforcement officers catch motorists also breaking one or more primary laws.

For example, texting and driving is a primary offense, which means that officers could pull over and ticket someone for that alone. If the motorist is found to be a minor, then he or she may be penalized under the law specifically applying to minors.

However, a minor motorist talking on a handheld device cannot legally be pulled over and assigned a ticket and the distracted driving fines unless he or she also commits some other moving violation such as swerving between lanes.

Virginia Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders

Virginia distracted driving laws do not make any provision for special regulations or restrictions on CDL holders as a whole. School bus drivers, specifically, are banned from using cell phones while driving buses, but that is the only case of additional rules for commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders.

Distracted Driving Penalties in Virginia

Virginia texting and driving fines begin at $125 for initial offenses and increase with additional violations. Supplemental fines for minors cited with cell phone use while driving range from $20 to $50.

Texting and driving penalties increase significantly, up into the $250 range, if motorists are cited for reckless driving offenses in conjunction with texting or other forms of phone-based violations.

Motorists can also expect to see the convictions on their licenses and insurance rates. Texting and driving tickets add three demerit points to a driver’s license records, which frequently prompts insurers to raise drivers’ vehicle insurance rates.

A bill submitted by lawmakers in early 2018 would have added additional fines for violations occurring in construction or school zones but the measure was rejected.

Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in Virginia

Virginia authorities maintain that the primary ways to prevent texting and driving lie with individual motorists. They recommend that all drivers cultivate the following safe driving practices.

  • Pull over in a safe and legal place and bring vehicles to a complete stop before engaging with mobile devices or other potential distractions.
  • Set up the vehicle, passengers and devices as necessary before beginning to drive to minimize their need for adjustments and attention while the vehicle is in motion.
  • Keep a safe distance between vehicles at all times to ensure there is time to stop or take evasive action in the event of distracted driving incidents.
  • Practice proper driving posture at all times, including keeping one’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road to maximize awareness and vehicular control.
Last updated on Wednesday, October 14 2020.