Texting ban, other laws take effect Wednesday

Published 1:01 pm Monday, June 29, 2009

Multitaskers who drive while texting or e-mailing on mobile devices may want to reconsider starting Wednesday. That’s the day it becomes illegal in Virginia.

State lawmakers were concerned about the distraction that texting behind the wheel causes. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, driver distraction is the cause of most accidents, and a recent study by Car and Driver magazine found that texting behind the wheel slows reaction time more than drunken driving.

Like the state’s seat belt law, the texting law is a secondary offense, which means a driver cannot be pulled over and ticketed unless they are also committing a primary offense like speeding. The fine for violating the law will be $20 for the first offense and $50 for the second.

Exemptions to the law include emergency vehicle operators, drivers who are parked, drivers who are reporting an emergency and drivers who are operating GPS devices.

Several other measures approved by the General Assembly and the governor also take effect Wednesday. One new law makes it possible for juvenile courts to suspend a minor’s driver’s license if the student has 10 or more unexcused, consecutive absences from school. The suspension can be for any period of time until the minor turns 18.

Students who have withdrawn from school or transferred to another school are not subject to the law. Under certain circumstances, students who lose their driving privileges under the law can apply for a restricted license.

Voters in Virginia will now be allowed to wear campaign stickers, hats, T-shirts and other paraphernalia bearing a candidate’s name inside of polling places; state law previously forbade the practice.

The sale of novelty cigarette lighters to minors will also be banned starting July 1, as will the hanging of a noose, “with the intent to intimidate,” on another person’s property.

Some mopeds and other electric-powered bicycles and wheelchairs will be banned from highways and a person convicted of drunken driving two times within 10 years will have to use an ignition interlock, a device that checks a driver’s blood alcohol content before the vehicle can be started. Previously, the device was only required if the two drunken driving convictions occurred within 5 years.

One of the most controversial pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly, the state’s new smoking ban, doesn’t take effect until Dec. 1, in order to give business owners more time to come into compliance.