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Virginia’s new hands-free driving law takes effect on Jan. 1

No handheld texting, music, GPS

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Starting January 1 in Virginia, it’s eyes up, phone down. Period.

A new Virginia law will make it illegal to use a cellphone while driving for any reason.

Roanoke County police Sgt. Spencer Hoopes said it’s a welcome change. The current law only bans typing or reading texts or emails and it’s hard to enforce.

“The ultimate goal here is safety on the roadway,” said Hoopes. “They could be looking at their phone for GPS purposes, they could be changing music, looking at various other apps, dialing a phone number, all of which pose a potential distraction.”

Now, the public and police will be on the same page. Using a handheld device for music, maps, texts, calls, emails, etc. is all off limits.

“You’ve got this device in your hand while you’re moving, this is a violation of law so we can take necessary protective action,” said Hoopes.

The new law does not apply to someone driving an emergency vehicle on the clock or anyone reporting an emergency. You are allowed to use your phone while legally parked or stopped at a stop sign or stoplight, but beware.

“The light turns green and they are sitting there, they are no longer lawfully stopped,” said Hoopes. “They are now impeding the flow of traffic and would be then in violation of that law.”

Hoopes said if your phone is in a hands-free mount attached to the car and you’re using Bluetooth or speaker phone, one touch to answer a call or go to the next song is OK.

“Things like that are not prohibited by the law. The phone’s not in our hand. We’re not manipulating multiple characters or multiple buttons to function this phone. It’s a single one press to answer, one press to hang up,” said Hoopes.

But scrolling through playlists or constantly checking your GPS is a violation and puts people at risk.

AAA Mid-Atlantic Representative Martha Meade said that using a cellphone while driving is a visual, physical and cognitive distraction.

“There’s a disconnect in what we see as dangerous and what people actually do behind the wheel,” said Meade.

Her advice is to keep your phone out of reach: put it in the glovebox, backseat or trunk. If you need to check it during your trip, pull over somewhere safe first.

“Do all those things from a safe location and then get back on the roadway and continue your journey,” said Hoopes.


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