Phone Down. It’s the Law.


Beginning July 1st, 2020, it will be illegal to hold a handheld personal communications device (e.g., a smart phone) while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in Virginia. The new law will not be effective until January 1st, 2021, to allow for educating the public about its provisions.

There Are Some Exceptions

  1. The operator of any emergency vehicle while he is engaged in the performance of his official duties;
  2. An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped;
  3. Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency;
  4. The use of an amateur or a citizens band radio; or
  5. The operator of any Department of Transportation vehicle or vehicle operated pursuant to the Department of Transportation safety service patrol program or pursuant to a contract with the Department of Transportation for, or that includes, traffic incident management services as defined in subsection B of § 46.2-920.1 during the performance of traffic incident management services.
Violating the law is punishable, for a first offense, by a fine of $125 and, for a second or subsequent offense, by a fine of $250. Breaking the law in a highway work zone is punishable by a mandatory $250 fine.

Why Distracted Driving is a Problem

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified distracted driving as “a crisis that needs to be addressed now.”
  • Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety found Virginia to be one of 11 states considered “dangerously behind” in driving safety laws.
  • 80% of all crashes and 65% of all near crashes involve driver inattention within 3 seconds of the crash. (Virginia Tech)
  • Virginia drivers observed in a 2018 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety roadside survey were 57% more likely to be manipulating a cellphone than drivers in a 2014 survey.
  • Texting (in essence manipulating a phone) while driving increases your crash risk by 2300%, because it involves all THREE kinds of distraction – manual, visual and cognitive. It is by far the most egregious form of distracted driving.
  • In a Liberty Mutual survey, 80% of teens reported that they viewed APP use while driving as “not distracting.” (Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety)
  • Motorists with smart phones use hand-held devices in 88 out of every 100 trips. Therefore, Zendrive estimates that there are about 600 million trips involving distracted driving in the US every day. (Zendrive)
  • Virginia DMV (2020 figures are preliminary):
    • 14.2% of all fatal crashes in 2020 involved distracted driving. This number likely underrepresents the problem as distraction can be difficult to determine in the event of a fatality.
    • Total distracted driving-related fatalities, top jurisdictions in 2020 (starting with worst): Fairfax County, Chesterfield County, Virginia Beach City, Charlottesville City, Richmond City, Botetourt County, Frederick County, Prince William County, Shenandoah County
    • Distracted driving-related fatalities per licensed drivers, top jurisdictions in 2020 (starting with worst): Fairfax County, Chesterfield County, Virginia Beach City, Botetourt County, Charlottesville City, Frederick County, Norfolk City, Prince William County, Richmond City, Shenandoah County
    • Total distracted driving-related injuries, top jurisdictions in 2020 (starting with worst): Fairfax County, Virginia Beach City, Henrico County, Hampton City, Prince William County, Chesterfield County, Loudoun County, Norfolk City, Chesapeake City, Fredericksburg City
    • Distracted driving-related injuries per licensed drivers, top jurisdictions in 2020 (starting with worst): Fairfax County, Virginia Beach City, Henrico County, Hampton City, Prince William County, Richmond City, Newport News City, Chesterfield County, Loudoun County, Norfolk City

F.A.Q

Q: If it’s illegal to hold a phone while driving, why do I see people doing it all the time? Why aren’t the police stopping drivers?

A: The new law becomes effective January 1st, 2021, to allow an education period for drivers to learn about the law. After the effective date, police will begin enforcing the law.

Q: How will drivers learn about the new law?

A: This web page is part of the answer. The General Assembly mandated that traffic safety organizations like DRIVE SMART Virginia shall develop and provide educational materials to the public regarding the provisions of this act prior to its effective date. Messaging through social and digital media, publications, news stories and columns, and public service announcements will carry educational messaging.

Q: Can I hold my cellphone in my hand while driving?

A: It is illegal for a driver to operate a motor vehicle while holding a cellphone or mobile device.

Q: Can I talk on my cellphone while driving?

A: Yes. But you may not hold the phone.

Q: What strategies have been adopted to ensure that the law will be fairly enforced?

A:

  • The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and DRIVE SMART Virginia shall create training and educational materials on the implementation and enforcement of this act to be made available to law-enforcement agencies.
  • DRIVE SMART Virginia and other traffic safety organizations shall develop and provide educational materials to the public regarding the provisions of this act prior to its effective date.
  • The Chairmen of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the House Committee for Courts of Justice shall annually request the Office of the Executive Secretary to report all of the citations issued pursuant to the provisions of this act and, to the extent available, the relevant demographic characteristics of those persons issued a citation.
To order FREE* educational materials related to the new handheld device law, visit our online store.

*Virginia residents only