Driving Instruction

The New Cell Phone Law in VA: Practical tips for Virginia cell phone use while driving

May 24, 2022

If you drive in Virginia, you should know Virginia’s policy on cell phone use while driving. Since traffic laws vary by state, and a new cell phone law was approved in Virginia in 2020, it’s reasonable to ask: 

  • Is it illegal to text and drive in Virginia? 
  • What are the laws regarding texting and driving in Virginia? 
  • Is it ever legal to use a cell phone while driving in Virginia? 
  • Can I be pulled over for texting and driving in Virginia?
  • Can I use my phone at a red light?

In today’s article, we will examine the new cell phone law in VA, giving some practical tips on how to follow the law, and answering everyone’s favorite question: is it illegal to text and drive in Virginia?

 Let’s get started!

Distracted Driving Laws in Virginia

With the increase of phone-based apps and activities, the temptation to use a cell phone while driving – for social media, entertainment, note-taking, and GPS, not to mention email, text, and phone calls – is greater than ever. 

Unfortunately, it is easy to overestimate one’s own ability to multitask while underestimating how quickly conditions can change when you’re moving at 65 miles per hour! 

A study completed by VA Tech tracked 100 vehicles for one year. During that time, the vehicles were involved in 82 crashes and 761 “near-crashes.” Analysis showed that nearly 80% of crashes involved some form of driver distraction in the seconds immediately before the crash.

When it pertains to driving, there are three primary kinds of distraction:

  • Manual - Taking your hands off the steering wheel
  • Visual - Taking your eyes off the road
  • Cognitive - Taking your mind off driving

As you may notice, using a cell phone to text involves all three kinds of distractions simultaneously! This makes using a cell phone one of the riskiest driving behaviors, which is the reason for the hands-free cell phone law in Virginia.

The New Virginia Cell Phone Law of 2020

Cell phone restrictions have been part of Virginia traffic law since 2009. In 2020, however, the state assembly passed a new law, overwriting previous laws. The new Virginia cell phone law from 2020 states:

It is unlawful for any person, while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth, to hold a handheld personal communications device.

In short, it is illegal to hold a cellphone. There are, however, legal ways to use a cell phone while driving in Virginia, as well as certain exceptions to the law:

  1. Hands-free methods of operating your cell phone are OK with the law in Virginia. It’s totally legal to talk on the phone or tell your phone to do things, as long as you do not need to hold your phone. 
  2. It is legal to call 911 to report an emergency while driving. It is similarly legal for professionals driving emergency vehicles to use cell phones as part of their work. 
  3. Truck drivers may use amateur or citizen band radios.
  4. It is legal to hold a cell phone while parked or legally stopped.

As you can see, the goal of this law is not to make it impossible to use your cell phone but to minimize the danger of doing so.

Can I use a cell phone at a red light in Virginia?

The wording of the new law begs the question, what counts as “legally stopped”? Is it illegal to text and drive in Virginia if stopped at a red light?

Though the new cell phone law in VA specifies it’s ok to use a cell phone when “legally stopped,” this does not include the temporary stops that are a normal part of driving.

Legally stopped refers to times and situations when your car is no longer on an active roadway. For example, when your vehicle is pulled over, stopped in a location where it can remain stopped as long as necessary. If you want to pick up your cell phone, you need to pull over.

Can I be pulled over for using a cell phone while driving in Virginia?

In the past, you could not be pulled over solely for using a cell phone. But this new law makes holding a cell phone a “primary offense.” This means that now you can be pulled over for using a cell phone; the police officer doesn’t need any other reason.  

What are the penalties for breaking the new cell phone law in VA?

Getting caught breaking this law could result in the following penalties:

  • First-time offense: $125 fine.
  • Subsequent offenses: $250 fine.
  • Work zone violation: $250 fine.
  • If cited for reckless driving: penalties include a $2,500 fine, six-month license suspension, and 12 months in jail.

Virginia is serious about this. If you push your luck, you risk these penalties, as well as the costs and harm of an accident. But there are good alternatives. Read on!

Top Tips for Following the Hands-free Cell Phone Law in Virginia

Here are some alternatives to illegally texting and driving in Virginia: 

1. Utilize Bluetooth / hands-free voice commands

You are legally allowed to use cell phones, as long as they are operated without handling (and, ideally, without taking your eyes off the road.) A variety of convenient, voice-controlled virtual assistants like “Ok Google” and “Hey Siri” can perform many tasks on your behalf with far less distraction than performing the tasks yourself. Some Bluetooth-enabled headsets and phones can connect directly to your car.

2. Turn off or put the phone on Do Not Disturb mode

If you do not have a hands-free, voice-commanded feature on your phone, it may be helpful to activate the “do not disturb” mode until you reach your destination. This prevents the distraction and temptation of answering calls, texting, and checking email alerts until it is legal to do so.

3. Put your phone out of reach

For those of us who reach for our phones without even thinking about it, it can be helpful to establish a new habit of placing your phone in the back seat or the glove compartment when driving. This protects you from absentmindedly picking up your phone before you have a chance to make a conscious choice. 

Drive Safer, Drive Smarter

This new law isn’t going anywhere soon. Rather than continuing to use a cell phone, hoping you won’t get pulled over or have an accident, embrace this new normal. Make use of various hands-free options, retrain yourself to pull over to make urgent calls, and perhaps you’ll even come to appreciate the temporary break from being continually connected. 

So, let’s answer that million-dollar question, is it illegal to text and drive in Virginia? Yes, it is: texting and driving is illegal in Virginia. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Following the laws regarding cell phone use while driving will keep you and others safer while still allowing for ways to use your phone.

We hope this article has been helpful as well as informative. Here at Colonial Driving School, we are passionate about equipping Virginia drivers with the knowledge and tools to be excellent legal drivers. 

We are a full-service driving school, offering a fully DMV-approved Driver Improvement Clinic, both in-person and online, for anyone looking to get points off of their license. We also offer Drivers Education for those wanting to get a license for the first time and private driving lessons for those wanting to gain driving skills. 

Feel free to contact us with any questions. We look forward to assisting you.