New Laws, Stricter Penalties Coming to Virginia Roads

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New laws take effect across the state starting Monday, July 1. They include big changes on Virginia's roads - stiffening the penalties for texting while driving and for drinking and driving. 

The new laws will have you thinking twice before jumping in the driver's seat. Police will now be able to pull you over for sending a text behind the wheel, and it will cost you more, too. 

"The biggest change for us is going to be changing texting while driving from a secondary offense to a primary offense," said Carter Johnson, spokesperson for the Albemarle County Police Department. 

Starting next Monday, July 1, police will begin pulling over any driver they see texting behind the wheel. Right now, only drivers pulled over for other reasons can be charged with a texting offense. 

"It really will help us be more proactive and really try and get some people to pay better attention to this law and hopefully change their driving behavior," Johnson said.

The law also increases the penalties for texting while driving - to $125 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses. The regulations do not apply to drivers of emergency vehicles, stopped vehicles, use of factory installed GPS devices, or the use of a handheld device to report and emergency.

According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, 20 percent of all crashes last year were attributed to distracted driving, and cell phone use is one of the top three distractions. 

"So really we hope this new law will just deter the behavior," Johnson said. 

New laws will also strengthen rules against drinking and driving, automatically making any DUI conviction a class six felony with a minimum of a year in prison if the driver has previously been convicted of DUI manslaughter or DUI maiming by motor vehicle or watercraft. 

And moped drivers - starting Monday - will need to start wearing a face shield and carrying photo ID. 

"We do want people to know that this is the law now, and this is the guidelines that we're going to be following and they do need to be aware of this," Johnson said. 

Charlottesville and Albemarle officers who spoke to NBC29 say they have yet to be formally briefed on the new rules, but all are aware of the changes.