Starting Friday, Virginia drivers will need to put down their phones while behind the wheel or pay a hefty fine.
A new law prohibiting people from holding any handheld communications device while driving goes into effect on Jan. 1. Police can pull a driver over if an officer observes someone violating the law.
The first time a person is pulled over for violating the law, they will face a $125 fine. Additional offenses can result in a fine of $250.
People can still talk on their phones while driving, but not while holding their phones. Drivers can also hold their phones while stopped or legally parked or if they're using it to report an emergency.
1st Sgt. Jonathan Perok said Wednesday that the Prince William County Police Department is recommending that residents use hands-free devices, like a Bluetooth or dashboard cell-phone mount, to avoid having to hold their phones while driving.
“We encourage residents to look into hands free devices, which are permitted,” Perok said.
A person who is convicted of reckless driving who was also in violation of the ban on holding a cell phone can be fined up to $2,500 and receive up to one year in jail and up to a six-month license suspension.
The law is the result of a long battle to stiffen Virginia’s law around using cell phones while driving in an effort to prevent crashes caused by distracted driving. Under the state’s previous law, it was illegal to enter text into a phone while driving, but drivers could hold their phones to either talk or look at a map, except in construction zones.
In 2019 in Virginia, there were 120 deaths, 13,258 injuries and 34,850 crashes attributed to “distracted driving,” a category that includes using a mobile phone, according to a Prince William County police press release.