Virginia Distracted Driving Laws & Accidents

Distracted driving laws in Virginia

Is it illegal to text and drive in the Old Dominion State?

Distracted driving is a serious problem in Virginia. Fortunately, the state has passed several laws designed to reduce the number of distracted drivers on the road. Find out how these laws may impact your personal injury claim.
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On a warm day in July, Ken Crumpler, the motorcycle safety program manager for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, experienced his first “unscheduled dismount.”

Ken was thrown from his motorcycle on a highway in Roanoke, Virginia after he was struck from behind by a distracted driver. Ken broke several bones, but thankfully the gear he was wearing saved his life.

Unfortunately, not everyone on the road is as lucky as Ken Crumpler.

Approximately 9 people are killed every day in the United States as a result of distracted driving.

Fortunately, Virginia recently passed a couple of laws intended to reduce the number of distracted drivers on the road.

Virginia distracted driving statistics

Distracted driving is a serious problem in Virginia, and the alarming statistics don’t even tell the full story.

“There’s no way for us to tell [the real number],” said Virginia DMV Commissioner George Bishop. “There’s no standardized field sobriety test for distracted driving.”
Virginia crashes involving distracted driving (2018)
Fatal crashes Injury crashes Property damage crashes
120 8,622 15,608

Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office

Most drivers injured and killed in distracted-driving accidents were between the ages of 21 and 31.

Common types of distractions

There are 3 recognized types of driver distractions:

  1. Visual. A visual distraction occurs when you take your eyes off the road. Examples include texting, browsing online, and turning around to talk to someone in the back seat.
  2. Manual. A manual distraction occurs when you take your hands off the steering wheel. Examples include holding a smartphone, eating, drinking, smoking, and putting on makeup.
  3. Cognitive. A cognitive distraction occurs when you take your mind off the road. Examples include talking to another passenger, talking on the phone, and thinking about work.
Facing factsA study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that engaging in visual-manual tasks, such as reaching for a phone, triples a driver’s risk of a crash.

Common causes of distracted driving car accidents

In Virginia, the most common types of distraction that lead to distracted-driving accidents are:

  • Texting
  • Rubbernecking
  • Talking with passengers
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Looking at a roadside accident

Virginia laws to prevent distracted driving

In Virginia, it’s illegal to use a cell phone to text, send an email, or type multiple letters, with the following exceptions:

  • The driver of an emergency vehicle while engaged in the performance of their official duties
  • A driver who is parked or stopped
  • The use of a GPS
  • Any person using a handheld personal communication device to report an emergency

If you’re caught using your cell phone or smartphone for any of the above-listed purposes, you’ll receive a $125 fine for a first violation and a $250 fine for a second violation.

Currently, it’s still legal to talk on your cell phone while driving in Virginia, unless you are:

  • In a highway work zone
  • A commercial driver
  • A school bus driver
  • A driver under the age of 18
In The News: Virginia governor Ralph Northam is poised to sign a hands-free bill into law that would prohibit all drivers from holding a cell phone (drivers could still use a headset to talk). The hands-free bill passed the Virginia House and Senate in early 2020 and the law, if signed by the governor, would go into effect at the start of 2021.

How distracted driving affects liability in a Virginia car accident

The fines for distracted driving are relatively minor. The real consequences arise when a distracted driver is involved in a serious car accident that results in the injury or death of another person. 

Under Virginia law, a driver is negligent if they fail to use reasonable care and someone is harmed because of that failure. 

When a driver causes a car accident because they were distracted (e.g., they were texting or adjusting the radio), the driver is negligent and responsible for paying the damages caused by the accident.

What to do if you’re in an accident with a distracted driver

If you’ve been in an accident with a distracted driver, you will have to prove that the driver was distracted so that you can recover damages. Here are some steps you can take following an accident to accomplish this goal:

  • Call emergency services (911). If you’re injured, your first priority should be to call an ambulance. Remember, some symptoms don’t appear until hours or even days after an accident. For this reason, you should see a doctor immediately after your crash, even if you don’t think you were seriously injured.
  • Tell the police. When the police arrive, be sure to tell them why you think the other driver was distracted. The police can conduct an initial investigation and, if they find evidence that the driver was distracted, include this vital information in the police report.
  • Gather information. Be sure to get the other driver’s contact information (their name, address, registration number, and license number). In addition, write down the contact information for any witnesses. Finally, take pictures of the scene, the damages, and anything else that might be relevant to the accident.
  • Contact an attorney. Proving that another driver was distracted can be challenging. Fortunately, experienced personal injury attorneys establish fault for a living. An attorney can subpoena phone records, review security footage, depose drivers and passengers, and take other steps to establish that the driver was negligent.  

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