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No texting while driving law takes effect July 1

A new Virginia law goes into effect on July 1 that bans text messaging and emailing while driving.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) Virginia Highway Safety Office encourages motorists to avoid distractions, such as texting while driving. Last year 28,395 crashes occurred in the Commonwealth involving driver distraction. Of those, 114 people died and 14,480 were injured.

The new law has several exceptions, including emergency vehicle operators, drivers reporting an emergency, or a driver who is parked.

Also, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning a law enforcement officer must have a different reason to stop or arrest the driver. The fine is $20 for a first offense, and $50 for a second offense.

Also starting July 1, the criteria requiring an ignition interlock device on vehicles will become stricter. Motorists convicted of driving while intoxicated for the second time within 10 years must install an ignition interlock system on all vehicles they own or co-own in order to obtain restricted driving privileges during the 3-year revocation, or full driving privileges at the end of the revocation period. The time frame for the violation period has been doubled from 5 years to 10 years.

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

In a related move, 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 DMV. After July 1, violators will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and may have their driver’s license 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.

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.

posted 06.27.2009

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