Lie Detector? New Virginia Texting and Driving Law Leaves Police Officers with a New Job

On July 1, 2013, a new law went into effect regarding texting and driving. Until that point, texting and driving had been considered a “secondary” offense. Although it was still illegal to text while driving, police officers needed another reason to justify pulling over someone who was suspect of texting and driving, making it hard to enforce the law. The new law now makes it possible for police officers to pull over vehicle operators who are texting without having another reason. Although it seems rather straightforward, putting the new law into a statute has proven more difficult than originally planned.

The current wording of the law is as follows:

§ 46.2-1078.1.
Use of handheld personal communications devices in certain motor vehicles; exceptions; penalty.

A. It is unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to:

  1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
  2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored within the device nor to any caller identification information.

B. The provisions of this section shall not apply to:

  1. The operator of any emergency vehicle while he is engaged in the performance of his official duties;
  2. An operator who is lawfully parked or stopped;
  3. The use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning systems (GPS) or wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system; or
  4. Any person using a handheld personal communications device to report an emergency.

The wording of the new law now leaves police officers with a new role, lie detector. Although it may appear that the vehicle operator was texting, proving so will be hard. Under the new law, Virginians can still use their phones to look up numbers, dial phone calls and for use as a GPS. This leniency within the law will add incentive for some citizens to be dishonest with police officers if ever put in a situation where they have been pulled over for texting and driving.

While we do not recommend lying to police officers, there are some things we do recommend:

  1. Stay off your phone. Unless you are in an emergency situation, don’t use your phone for any reason.
  2. Buy a mounting GPS. Set your GPS before you hit the road and make sure to turn the volume up so you can hear where you need to go rather than using it as a map.
  3. If you have to text, pull over. In 2009 alone, 5,474 people were killed and 448,000 people were injured because of distracted drivers. Remember, it can wait until the next stop light or gas station.

Although we all believe that it is unlikely that we will be the one who gets caught, that split second when we take our eyes off the road to text can cause great problems. Not just the possibility of a ticket but also the chance that we could cause serious injury to ourselves or others. The best solution is to steer clear of texting and driving and keep your eyes on the road.