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Law bans cell phones while driving

The new year brings a new law for Virginians and Charlotte County drivers when it comes to cell phone use while driving.

Charlotte County Sheriff Royal Freeman said the new law would be enforced.

Starting Jan. 1, a new law bans motorists from using any handheld personal communications device while driving on Virginia’s roadways.

“We plan on enforcing the law through warnings and issuing traffic summons when necessary,” Freeman said. “As with all traffic infractions in the Commonwealth of Virginia, our deputies have the option to warn or summons the operator of a motor vehicle.”

Drivers who violate the new law banning the use of cell phones while driving are subject to a $125 fine for the first offense and $250 for each subsequent offense.

The new law only applies to the direct handling of phones while driving.

Drivers may still use cell phones to make or receive calls while driving through the use of hands-free technology.

“I encourage the citizens of Charlotte to use “hands-free” devices such as Bluetooth while driving or simply pull over to a safe location,” Freeman said. “The use of handheld devices is still allowable by drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped.”

Freeman said although he did not know the specific number of crashes attributed to cell phone use in the county, cell phone use while driving has been a factor in numerous motor vehicle crashes across the United States.

“Distracted driving claims nine lives per day — approximately 3,500 per year,” Freeman said.

The National Safety Council (NSC) analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data finds that 2,841 people died in distraction-affected crashes in 2018.

The percent of drivers using cell phones while driving has increased from 0.2% in 2005 to 3.2% in 2018.

Other new laws that took effect Jan. 1 include:

• Conceal carry permits — Anyone looking to get a conceal carry permit in Virginia will now have to take an in-person class instead of an online course. Getting the training in person allows people to work one-on-one with someone and ask questions, something an online course could not offer.

• Cost of insulin — Virginia-regulated health insurance companies will also no longer be able to increase the cost of insulin due to House Bill 66, which limits the charge of a 30-day supply of insulin to $50.

• Driver privilege cards to non-U.S. citizens — You are eligible to obtain a driver privilege card if you are a non-U.S. citizen who is a resident of Virginia, have reported income from Virginia sources or are claimed as a dependent on a tax return filed in Virginia in the past 12 months and do not have a driving privilege that is currently suspended or revoked.