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Virginia Lawmakers Will Consider Statewide Ban On Hand-held Cellphone Use

A man sitting behind the steering wheel of a car and looking at a cell phone as a woman walks in front of the vehicle.
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Using a cellphone while driving could become illegal state-wide after the General Assembly returns in January.

Last year, Governor Ralph Northam signed a ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving, also known as hands-free legislation, that applied in highway work zones. A more expansive bill was voted down in the General Assembly.

But with Democrats taking control of the House and Senate that could change, says DRIVE  SMART Virginia Executive Director Janet Brooking.

“We know we have widespread support among the Democratic Party,” Brooking said. “We definitely don’t want to make assumptions, but we do feel like there is a lot of support for this bill in this upcoming General Assembly.” 

Under the current state law passed in 2009, drivers are only banned from texting or answering emails. The law right now doesn’t say anything about other cell phone uses like social media. Advocates say that makes it essentially unenforceable.

“The officer can’t determine whether you’re texting or Snapchating or whatever it might be,” Brooking said.

The proposed law would make it easier for officers, because anyone with a phone in their hand would be subject to a ticket. The ban would not apply to drivers that are parked or people using their phones to call emergency services.

Rather than wait for state action, the City of Richmond recently passed a similar ordinance.