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Virginia Passes Two New Driving Laws: Regarding Cell Phone Use and Passing Emergency Vehicles

Two new Virginia laws impacting drivers went into effect this summer on July 1, 2019. First, Virginia amended its cell phone laws to forbid any hand-held cell phone use in work zones, and, second, Virginia increased the penalty for failure to move over when passing a stationary emergency vehicle to an automatic “reckless driving” conviction. Both laws have substantial ramifications for truck drivers and other Commercial Driver’s License (“CDL”) holders.

First, Virginia amended Code § 46.2-1078.1 to add a new subsection B that prohibits hand-held cell phone use of any kind in highway work zones. The previous law only barred the use of cell phones to text/email or to read texts/emails while driving. The new law will also prohibit, for example, holding your cell phone to your ear to make a call while driving in a highway work zone. Violation of Virginia Code § 46.2-1078.1(B) carries an automatic fine of $250 and will likely constitute a “serious violation” for CDL purposes.

This change has a substantial impact on truck drivers, especially, who must be very careful to only use hands-free devices while traveling through work zones. Drivers should familiarize themselves with voice-activated calling, as even picking up the phone to press “dial” could now be considered a violation of the new Virginia Code § 46.2-1078.1(B). In accident cases, plaintiff’s attorneys will seek to identify any minute violations to establish negligence against the driver or company, so it is especially important for companies to enforce rules consistent with Virginia rules and regulations, which may include requiring hands-free calling for all drivers.

Second, Virginia strengthened the penalties for its “move-over” law that requires drivers to change lanes, if such lane change can be done safely, so that the driver is not in the lane adjacent to a stationary emergency vehicle that has flashing lights on. Virginia replaced Code § 46.2-921.1 with Code §46.2-861.1, which ups the penalty to automatically be considered “reckless driving.” The new change means that a ticket for failure to move over for a stationary emergency vehicle would automatically constitute a “serious violation” for a CDL holder.

If you have any questions regarding new driving laws, or any laws that may affect your drivers, please contact Matthias Kaseorg (mkaseorg@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1293, or Steve Setliff (ssetliff@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1261.

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