Virginia’s New Anti-Texting Law
As of July 1, 2013, it is unlawful to use a handheld personal communications device, like an iPhone, to send or read text messages or emails while operating any moving motor vehicle. Motor vehicles include cars, trucks, motorcycles, and, under certain circumstances, mopeds. A person found guilty of texting while driving will be fined $125 for a first offense and $250 for a second or subsequent offense. A violation of the anti-texting law is a traffic infraction and not a crime. Once the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles receives notice a Virginia licensed driver is convicted of the anti-texting law, it will assess three negative demerit points to the driving record of the person convicted.
It is important for persons driving in Virginia to understand what the anti-texting law prohibits and does not prohibit. The anti-texting law makes it unlawful to type or read a text or email while driving a car or other motor vehicle. The law applies to any handheld personal communications device capable of sending or receiving text messages or emails. However, for the law to apply, the motor vehicle must be moving at the time the text or email is being typed or read.
The scope of Virginia’s anti-texting law is limited. It prohibits typing and reading texts and emails using a smart phone or other handheld communications device while operating a moving motor vehicle. The law does not prohibit using a smart phone or other handheld communications device to enter numbers into the device or reading any name or number already stored in the device. The law does not apply to stopped or parked motor vehicles. As a result, a person who uses their iPhone as a telephone while driving may not be in violation of Virginia’s anti-texting law. Virginia’s anti-texting law does not apply to the use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning system (GPS) devices. The law does not apply to persons operating emergency vehicles while they are engaged in their official duties.
Interestingly, the law does not seem to apply to a person who operates a moped as long as the moped is operated at a speed of 35 miles per hour or less. In Virginia, a moped is generally not considered a motor vehicle. There are certain circumstances when a moped is considered a motor vehicle. For instance, a moped being operated in excess of 35 miles per hour is deemed to be a motorcycle and, therefore, is a motor vehicle under the law. A moped is also considered a motor vehicle while operated on a highway in the application of Chapter 8 of Virginia’s Motor Vehicle Code. Chapter 8 of Virginia’s Motor Vehicles Code includes laws regulating traffic. Virginia’s anti-texting law is not within Chapter 8 of Virginia’s Motor Vehicle Code. As a result, the law may not apply to persons operating mopeds at 35 miles per hour or less.
Even though the scope of Virginia’s anti-texting law is limited, it does not mean a person can use their iPhone as a phone while driving without legal risk. A person may be charged with reckless driving while making a phone call, if that person drives a motor vehicle in a manner as to endanger life, limb, or property. In Virginia, reckless driving is a crime with the potential for an active jail sentence and up to a six month driver’s license suspension. It is important to remember any person driving a motor vehicle in a manner as to endanger, life, limb, or property may be charged with reckless driving.
Virginia’s new anti-texting law prohibits persons from typing and reading texts or emails while driving. The anti-texting law does not prohibit a person from using their smart phone as a phone while driving. However, to avoid a potential criminal charge for reckless driving, that person must use their smart phone as a phone without endangering, life, limb, or property.