Get Ready to Go Hands-Free in 2021

Andrew Smith, Associate Director

Are you ready for 2021? Nah, I’m not piling on the anti-2020 wagon, but oh, what a year it’s been! I am, however, hoping to make sure everyone gets ready for Virginia’s law about handheld devices going into effect January 1, 2021. Most laws go into effect on July 1 of that year, but with the “hands-free” law, there was a delayed enactment. So, make sure you are prepared because, after the ball drops ringing in the New Year, don’t pick up that phone while driving.

It’s been against the law for several years to use a handheld device while driving a commercial vehicle as mandated by Federal law. Still, for all other motor vehicles, it starts in just a few weeks here in Virginia.

With the advancement of technology, most new cars come equipped with hands-free systems to connect your cell phone, which is very convenient. But for some, we need to figure out what to do. The far safest thing to do is wait until you get to your destination to take or make a call or send a text. But for those calls you need to take while driving, seek out a way to connect hands-free to avoid a ticket.

It’s easy to connect devices to your call or use your device. You can seek out devices with speakers or ways to connect your handheld devices to your car’s radio speakers. Many hands-free devices have speakers such as those that hang from your visor. But whatever the form you find best for you, get ready before the law takes effect and get used to using it.

Under this law, if you are caught holding your cell phone, you could face a stiff penalty of $125 fine for the first offense and $250 for every offense after that.

In 2019, Virginia saw 120 deaths in 23,246 distracted driving crashes, according to data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

You can read the bill that passed the 2020 General Assembly here: HB874/SB160

Here are some tips AAA recommends avoiding distractions while driving

  • Prepare for your driveSet vehicle systems like GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before hitting the road. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions ahead of time. And please, finish dressing and personal grooming at home – before you get on the road.
  • Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated. The consequences of alcohol-impaired driving and texting while driving could be the same: Put aside electronic distractions and never use text messaging, email, video games or internet functions, including those built into the vehicle, while driving. Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features.
  • Stay focused. Do not let anything divert your attention. Be sure to actively scan the road, use your mirrors, and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists. If you have passengers, enlist their help as a “designated texter.” Ask them to answer your calls, respond to texts and program the navigation.

Again, the hands-free law will go into effect statewide on Jan. 1, 2021.

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