no txtn while drivn

Published 10:07 pm Saturday, June 27, 2009

Like to text while you drive? Then, get it out of your system quickly, because on Wednesday it will be illegal.

A ban on sending text messages or e-mails while driving goes into effect Wednesday, along with a number of other new Virginia laws. Those who get caught doing it will face a $20 fine for their first offense and a $50 fine for their second. Under the new state law, a driver must be stopped for some other violation before he can be fined for texting while driving.

It’s one of several laws hitting the books on Wednesday, enacted by the Virginia General Assembly during its last session.

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“It’s clear that when you text, your eyes aren’t on the road, and your hands aren’t on the steering wheel,” said Delegate John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake), who sponsored the bill. He recounted an incident in Florida where the driver of a tractor-trailer was sending text messages to his wife and barreled into a school bus, killing one child and injuring several more.

Several people stopped in downtown Suffolk Friday said they do not text behind the wheel, because it’s not safe.

“I never do it,” said Travonda Demiel. “I’m scared I’m going to get a ticket or have an accident.”

“I’ve tried to dial numbers, and I’ve caught myself running off the road,” said Joyce Hoadley, who said she doesn’t text but admitted to placing calls behind the wheel. “It should be against the law.”

Informed it would be on Wednesday, Hoadley’s response was “Good.”

Virginia saw 114 people die and 14,480 people injured as a result of crashes involving driver distraction last year. The new law has several exceptions, including emergency vehicle operators, drivers reporting an emergency or a driver who is parked.

Penalties for DUI

In addition, the legislature voted this year to increase the penalties for driving under the influence. Previously, if a driver was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol for the second time within five years, he would have to install an ignition interlock system on all vehicles he owns to obtain restricted driving privileges during the three-year revocation period and full driving privileges at the end of the revocation period. Now, the penalty will be given after the second driving under the influence of alcohol conviction in 10 years, not five.

The legislature also passed a law explaining the punishments for people who are caught driving without the ignition interlock device when it is ordered by the Department of Motor Vehicles. After July 1, violators will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and may have their driver’s licenses revoked for one year. The punishments for conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor include jail time for up to a year and a fine of up to $2,500.

An ignition interlock device is a device installed onto a car’s dashboard. Before the vehicle’s motor can be started, the driver first must exhale into the device. If his breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the programmed alcohol concentration — usually 0.02 or 0.04 percent — the vehicle will not start.

No school? No driving

Also new this year is a law that allows juvenile courts to suspend a minor’s driver’s license if the child accumulates 10 or more unexcused, consecutive absences from school.

The judge can suspend the child’s driver’s license for any period of time until the minor turns 18. If teens whose licenses are suspended drive anyway, they are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. The child may apply to the court for a restricted license if she is employed at least four hours a day and at least 20 hours a week, if she has a medical condition that requires her to be able to drive, or if she is the only person in the household with a driver’s license.

Mopeds prohibited on highways

The legislature passed a law this year prohibiting mopeds from traveling on interstate highways, beginning July 1. Violators could face a $50 fine. The law also prohibits the following on interstates:

4Electric personal assistive mobility devices

4Electrically powered toy vehicles

4Bicycles and electric power-assisted bicycles

State law defines a moped as a vehicle traveling on three wheels or less with a seat, and a motor that displaces less than 50 cubic centimeters. If the moped will be driven faster than 35 miles per hour, state law requires it be titled and registered as a motorcycle.

To travel on public streets, moped drivers are required to abide by the same traffic laws and regulations as automobile drivers, and they must be at least 16 years old. Although a moped drivers isn’t required to obtain a Virginia driver’s license, he must carry identification.

Traffic safety expanded

The General Assembly also passed a law related to traffic safety that impacts safety courses for drivers age 55 and older. After July 1, crash prevention courses may be offered online to these drivers if the company offering the class is approved by DMV. In addition, insurance companies may allow a reduction in premium charges to drivers 55 and older who successfully complete a crash prevention course via the Internet or other electronic means.

Restricted license change

Restricted licenses are currently issued under certain circumstances by the court so people can drive between home and work. Another new law passed by the 2009 General Assembly expands the restricted driving law for young drivers whose licenses are suspended for receiving their second demerit point or conviction of a safety belt violation while under age 18.

Effective July 1, those who petition the court for restricted driving privileges during their 90-day suspension period may be authorized to drive to work, as well as to an institution of higher learning. Drivers have to prove there is no other means of transportation they may use between home and the institution of higher learning.