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Recent Changes to Virginia Traffic Laws (2013)

by J.D. Garrett on October 31, 2013

Recent changes to Virginia traffic lawsThis year, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a variety of new traffic laws. These laws, which went into effect in July of this year, stiffen penalties and prohibit a variety of conduct that affects all drivers.

Changes to Virginia Cell Phone Laws

The Virginia Code prohibits the use of a handheld personal communications device to text message or email while driving. The prohibitions contained within the Code include manually entering “multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person” and using the device to read texts and emails.

Until July 21st of this year, texting or emailing while driving was a secondary offense in Virginia. This meant that the police could not pull over a driver solely for texting. Instead, the police had to first pull over the driver for another traffic offense, at which point the driver who was texting would receive a $15 fine. Under Virginia’s new law, texting is now a primary offense. A police officer can pull over a driver solely on suspicion of texting while driving. The legislature also raised the fee from $15 to $150. A second offense carries a hefty $250 fine.

This new law may not have the deterring effect that the Virginia legislature intended. As reported by the Washington Post, the new law contains a loophole for the unscrupulous. The law does not prohibit using a cell phone to make calls or follow GPS directions, nor does it prevent a driver from retrieving information from the caller identification (ID) or contact list. While lying to an officer could create far more problems for the driver, a driver pulled over for texting could instead tell the officer that he or she was using the phone for a legal purpose.

Unlike other states, Virginia’s new cell phone laws do not require the use of a hands-free device to talk on the phone while driving. However, as discussed above, manually entering numbers that are not in the caller ID or contact list could be considered texting while driving. Finally, drivers under the age of 18 are strictly prohibited from using cell phones in any manner.

Virginia Limits Passengers for Provisional License Holders

Another recently enacted law applies to provisional license holders. The Virginia Code defines a provisional license as any license issued to a person under the age of 18. Under the Code, a provisional license holder may only have one passenger under the age of 21 in the car unless a parent or guardian accompanies the license holder. The parent or guardian must also be riding in the front seat and lawfully be able to drive the car.

Drivers under the age of 18 who have had a provisional license for over a year are allowed up to three passengers under the age of 21. However, this rule only applies if they are traveling to or from a school activity, driving with a passenger over the age of 21 in the front seat, or in an emergency situation.

Changes to Virginia Moped Laws

New legislation in Virginia now requires every moped driver to carry a valid form of ID. This need not be a driver’s license, but it must be government-issued. Drivers must wear a helmet and, if the moped is not equipped with a windshield, some sort of eye protection. Finally, the law requires mopeds to be titled and registered if they are operated on Virginia roads. This title and registration requirement does not take effect until July 1, 2014. An extended list of moped laws and regulations can be found on Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicle website.

Virginia’s new traffic laws carry hefty fines and stiff penalties. In addition, traffic tickets carry collateral consequences like insurance increases and suspended licenses. If you receive a traffic ticket or are charged with a traffic crime in Virginia, contact one of our experienced traffic attorneys. We have helped hundreds of people get matters reduced and even dismissed in their entirety.

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