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Virginia Highway Safety Office News Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Media Contact: Melanie Stokes
Department of Motor Vehicles
(804) 367-6623

Texting While Driving is Unsafe and Unlawful After July 1
DUI Punishments Also Enhanced

RICHMOND - Virginians who send text messages or emails while driving after July 1 will be violating the law and will face a $20 fine.

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 banning texting and emailing passed by the General Assembly 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.

Other than making texting while driving against the law, the legislature also made the criteria stricter for requiring an ignition interlock device. Beginning July 1, if a motorist is convicted of driving while intoxicated for the second time within 10 years, the person must install an ignition interlock system on all the vehicles they own or co-own to obtain restricted driving privileges during the three-year revocation, or full driving privileges at the end of the revocation period. The timeframe used to be five years, not 10.

An ignition interlock is a device installed onto a car's dashboard. Before the vehicle's motor can be started, the driver first must exhale into the device. If their 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.

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