Hundreds of Virginians ticketed for violating ‘Hands Free Law’

Preliminary data from Virginia DMV shows 1,900+ convictions since Jan. 1, 2021
Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 4:51 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Despite a six-month educational period for informing drivers about the ‘hands free law’, hundreds of Virginians have been ticketed for holding their cell phones while driving.

The law technically went into effect July 1, 2020, but enforcement was postponed until Jan. 1, 2021.

Despite that six-month period focused on educating Virginians about this new change on the roadway, more than 1,900 drivers have been found guilty in a court of law.

“I was on my phone texting and I just glanced down at it for one second,” said Samuel Allebaugh.

It’s a moment Allebaugh wishes he could change; that second resulted in him driving his dump truck off the road, losing control and crashing head on with another vehicle on Genito Road.

“I never saw until we collided,” Allebaugh said.

That crash in February of 2019 killed Amelia County first responder Karen Giles.

While this happened before the hands free law went into effect in Virginia, Allebaugh teamed up with Chesterfield Police urging drivers to put the phone down in a public service announcement posted to social media in June.

Drive Safely in Honor of Karen Giles

Throughout April, we asked you to drive safely in memory of those we've lost in fatal crashes. We asked you to put the phone down in memory of Karen Giles, who died in a crash on Feb. 13, 2019. Today is her birthday. Sam Allebaugh was driving the dump truck that struck Karen's car, and he was texting at the time of the crash. The choice Sam made that day affected countless lives, but he hasn't run from the consequences of his actions, which included a conviction and jail time. Sam is passionate about working to keep others from making the same mistake he did. To further that goal, he took the incredibly brave step of sharing his story. He spoke openly with us about the day of the crash, how it's impacted his life and what he wants people to know: when you're driving, just drive. Karen Giles' family has shown Sam grace and offered forgiveness; they know he would take back his actions that day if he could. When you watch this video, we think you'll know it, too. But some things you can't take back. You can only implore others not to do the same. Listen to Sam. When you drive, just drive. Drive safely in memory of Karen.

Posted by Chesterfield County Police on Tuesday, June 8, 2021

“The memory of taking a life because of my negligence and distraction will forever be with me,” Allebaugh said.

“I’d probably say easily a third of driving is distracted driving,” said Chesterfield Police Lt. James Profita. “How much of that is related to a cell phone is probably a good high percentage.”

Profita said officers catch drivers with phones in their hands daily. Since January, the Chesterfield County Police Department has written 311 tickets.

“Some folks are surprised,” Profita said. “The majority are… it’s just bad habit that they keep forgetting it’s a law.”

Meanwhile, NBC12 reached out to other police agencies in the metro area.

Henrico officers handed out 359 tickets over the last six months. Richmond police citing just 10 drivers and Hanover County Sheriff’s deputies ticketing 58 drivers.

“We’ve given a lot of breaks as well, a lot of verbal warnings, but as the time gets through, we’re trying to get campaigns out like this to make sure people are aware of it,” Profita said.

Now officers and even Allebaugh hope these messages hit close to home.

“When you’re driving just drive,” Allebaugh said.

According to the Virginia DMV, preliminary data shows 1,907 drivers have been convicted of violating this law in the past six months.

If you are found guilty, the first offense is a $125 fine; any additional violations are $250 apiece. However, if the violation happens in a highway work zone, there is a mandatory fine of $250.

Meanwhile, there are a few exceptions to the law. It does not apply if your car is lawfully parked or stopped; it doesn’t apply if you are calling 911.

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