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Unclear distracted driving laws may lead to accidents

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Many Virginia residents know that distracted driving is dangerous, but the specific provisions of the state's laws are not completely clear. While many states have enacted laws that ban drivers from even holding a cellphone or personal electronic device while behind the wheel, such legislation has not yet passed in Virginia. Confusion about what counts as distracted driving may make it more difficult to enforce existing laws.

The Virginia Law Library provides details of the current distracted driving laws. According to the Code of Virginia, drivers may not use a handheld personal communication device to create, send or read text messages. They may not read emails, and individuals must not hold their devices in their hands while driving in a highway work zone. However, the current law does not restrict drivers from talking on their cell phones while holding them, a behavior that many experts say qualifies as distracted driving. Additionally, the existing laws do not address other distracting behaviors, such as watching videos, reading websites or searching the internet.

An article from WHSV News states that recent attempts to pass a law on handheld devices have failed. In 2019, there have been at least two bills introduced in the legislature that would have completely prohibited drivers from holding a phone or communication device in their hands while driving. Proponents of these measures say that such a law would make it easier for police officers to address distracted driving. The report states that even though most bills banning cellphone use while driving had bipartisan support, they ultimately failed to pass. Advocates of stricter distracted driving laws remind Virginia residents that even though holding a phone while driving is currently legal, it is safer to put it down while behind the wheel.

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