Texting and driving has become a very hot topic over the last few years, and many states have passed laws prohibiting texting and driving in an attempt to reduce the number of car accidents and wrongful deaths caused by this dangerous habit. Some states have pretty stiff penalties, while others are fairly lenient; and many of the laws are just plain hard to enforce.
In Virginia, it is currently against the law to text while driving. However, law enforcement agencies cannot stop a driver simply for texting and driving because it is only a secondary offense. The texting driver has to be pulled over for some other reason – a primary – offense before they can be charged with texting and driving. Even if they are charged as such, the penalty is only a $20 fine. Two delegates have introduced a bill that would make texting and driving a Class 1 misdemeanor, equal to reckless driving. Drivers found guilty of this offense could face up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
At the opposite extreme of Virginia’s current law is Utah’s texting and driving law, recently amended in 2012. A driver can be pulled over in Utah only for texting and driving; no other offense is needed. However, when the law was first passed in 2009, the driver had to be actively sending a text at the time of the accident in order to be charged. That is no longer the case. As of 2012, any driver who is using their phone for anything other than making a phone call or using the GPS is breaking the law. This includes surfing the Web, reading a text, or using an app.
Another significant factor in the Utah law is that it puts texting and driving in the same category as drunk driving. Instead of being considered an “accident” if someone is texting and causes a crash, the law states that someone who texts and drives is being inherently reckless, similar to a drunk driver who knows the dangers of drinking and driving, but does it anyway. Drivers are very aware of the dangers of texting and driving, so if they still do it, they are knowingly putting themselves and others in harm’s way. Utah drivers who are caught texting and driving can be charged with a misdemeanor and may face up to a $750 fine and a year in jail. If they kill another person while texting and driving, the penalty may be as harsh as 15 years in jail and $10,000 in fines.