Three months until hands-free law enforced statewide

Updated: Oct. 1, 2020 at 4:34 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In exactly three months drivers in Virginia could face stiff fines for holding their phones while behind the wheel.

On Jan. 1, 2021, the hands-free law will go into effect statewide. This law, HB874/SB160, allows drivers to be fined for holding a handheld personal communications device while driving.

“Focused drivers save lives,” said Martha Meade, AAA Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “There is no text message worth reading or sending when injuring or killing someone is the potential cost.”

In 2019, Virginia saw 120 deaths in 23,246 distracted driving crashes according to data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

“Taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles your risk for a crash,” said AAA spokesman Morgan Dean. “Let’s be honest, most people are looking at the phone or that distraction for more than two seconds.”

Kicking off National Distracted Driving Awareness month, AAA is renewing its push about this hands free law which will be enforced statewide come January 1. However, the law technically went into effect July 1 of this year.

“This is the six-month period, so some people get used to the idea of enforcement for this,” Dean said.

In December, the Richmond City Council passed its own hands-free law, which went into effect in June.

Since July, one ticket has been written, but an RPD spokeswoman said many warnings have been issued.

“The approach in these first few months has been more focused on education, instead of enforcement,” she added.

However, for some drivers that point still is not getting across.

“I think we all have the examples of when we’re on the roads,” Dean said. “We see a car start to weave back and forth, you’re very concerned and when you go to pass that vehicle to make sure everything is okay, what do you see? It is somebody picking that phone up, they’re trying to do something with it, looking back and forth. We do not want to see that on the roadway.”

Under this law, if you are caught holding your cell phone, you could face a stiff fine.

“$125 fine for the first offense and it’s $250 for every offense after that,” Dean said.

However, advocates said, this hands-free law is not a concrete solution.

“Hands-free is not risk free,” Dean added. “Anytime you are doing anything, be it holding a phone or having a conversation even if the phone is not in front of you, your mind is not focus on what’s in front of you.”

While nationally more than 20% of distracted driving cases deal with phones, there are other factors drivers should be concerned about.

“Anything that diverts attention from driving – eating and drinking, adjusting the navigation, or picking your next podcast, talking to other passengers, or talking or texting on the phone—can result in a fatal injury,” said a AAA news released.

Here are some tips AAA recommends to avoid distractions while driving:

  • Prepare for your drive. Set vehicle systems like GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before hitting the road. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions ahead of time. And please, finish dressing and personal grooming at home – before you get on the road.
  • Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated. The consequences of alcohol-impaired driving and texting while driving could be the same: Put aside electronic distractions and never use text messaging, email, video games or internet functions, including those built into the vehicle, while driving. Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features.
  • Stay focused. Do not let anything divert your attention. Be sure to actively scan the road, use your mirrors, and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists. If you have passengers, enlist their help as a “designated texter.” Ask them to answer your calls, respond to texts and program the navigation.

Again, the hands-free law will go into effect statewide on Jan. 1, 2021.

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