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New law restricts phone use while driving

A new phone law was passed this year and will go into effect at the start of the new year.

Many distractions take a driver’s attention away from the road. A matter of seconds can be the difference between life and death if a crash occurs. Eating, drinking, and adjusting the radio are only a few of the distractions that can put drivers and others in danger. Starting on Jan. 1, one of the most common distractions, cell phones, will be illegal to hold while driving.

“It breaks my heart that someone had to be distracted and, as a result, injured or killed someone,” said Christina Dempsey, a victim advocate. Dempsey often shares her story of losing her sister and niece to a distracted driver in hopes to spark a change and stop needless fatalities.

The new law means that drivers can no longer hold their cell phones while driving. The ultimate suggestion is to put the phone away out of sight and mind. However, since phones now are used for more than just texting and calling, drivers can mount their phones to windshields, dashboards, vents or cup holders for a hands-free alternative.

“It’s a very easy law to understand; you can’t hold your phone while driving,” said Janet Brooking from Drive Smart Virginia. “There is little room for misinterpretation.”

Driving holding a cell phone will now be a primary offense. The first offense will be $125, and every offense after will be $250. If caught in a work zone, the fine will automatically be $250.

John Saunders, director of the Virginia DMV’s Highway Traffic Safety Office, said as of Dec. 20, 2020, there have been 16,000 crashes this year in the state of Virginia. Of those crashes, due to distracted driving, 116 have been killed, 9,092 injured and 1,225 seriously injured. The numbers are believed to be underreported, since distracted driving is hard to prove.

“We are very close to the 2019 death total of 120,” said Saunders. “We want to be seeing this number go in the opposite direction. I believe this bill is going to do that and save so many lives.”

Saunders encourages everyone to make their New Year’s resolution to put their phone down while driving, because now it is the law.