Starting in July, drivers in Virginia who are caught text-messaging or e-mailing while driving could face fines.
Recently, the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting texting and e-mailing while driving. A first offense will result in a $20 fine. Each subsequent offense is a $50 fine.
Nearly two years ago, a Virginia Tech student lost control of her SUV while text-messaging behind the wheel and crashed into a group of people on the sidewalk in front of Big Al’s Grille & Sports Bar shortly after 2 a.m., as bars were closing.
The driver, Winchester resident Mary Elizabeth Bowen was charged and convicted of driving under the influence and three counts of maiming while DUI. Three of the people she hit sustained serious injuries causing permanent damage, including scarring.
Bowen was sentenced to one year and 10 days in prison and some of the victims filed civil suits as well.
Radford police Chief Don Goodman said he didn’t recall any serious crashes in his jurisdiction that were the result of texting while driving, but was glad to have the law in place.
Christiansburg police Major Dalton Reid says he believes the law will result in a decrease in the number of crashes caused by driver inattention, particularly among teenagers.
The law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning police require a separate reason to pull the driver over.
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Melanie Stokes says the law has exceptions in place for emergency vehicle operators, drivers reporting an emergency, or parked drivers.
Stokes said that in Virginia last year, 114 deaths and 14,480 injuries were caused by crashes involving distracted drivers. How many of those were related to texting or sending e-mails is unclear.
Other driving laws that will go into effect on July 1 include:
- Drivers convicted of DUI for the second time within a 10 year span are required to have an ignition interlock system installed on all of the vehicles they own or co-own to obtain restricted or full driving privileges.
- Drivers ordered to have an ignition interlock caught driving without one can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor and have their license revoked for a year.
- DMV-approved crash prevention courses may be offered online to drivers aged 55 and older, and insurance companies may offer a discount to drivers who complete them.