Changes to VA Distracted Driving and DUI Laws

Below is information with updates to various Virginia laws concerning driving under the influence, distracted driving (e.g., texting while driving), and fuel taxes.

Updated Virginia Distracted Driving Laws

Starting July 1st, 2013, there is a statewide ban on all cellphone texting, emailing, or other activities involving electronic devices for Virginia drivers. While engaging in these activities behind the wheel, drivers can get pulled over and ticketed. Texting had previously been a secondary offense, meaning officers could cite offenders only if they were stopped for a superseding violation such as speeding or running a red light. Now, working an iPhone or other handheld device while driving will lead to a $125 first-offense fine, up from $20.  Further offenses will result in harder penalties.

From here on out in the state of Virginia there will be a ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for school bus drivers (primary law). There will be a ban on cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for all novice drivers (secondary law). Also, a ban has been implemented on texting for all drivers (secondary law; primary for school bus drivers)

New Virginia DUI Laws

Anyone who is convicted of even a single DUI will be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle for six months, at their own expense.

With the device installed, convicted DUI offenders must blow into the device to start their cars; the cars will only start if they are under the legal alcohol limit. The device will also randomly check up on offenders while driving to ensure that they are still under the legal limit.

In addition to the interlock device, Virginia DUI offenses will carry the following penalties:

First offense: Mandatory $250 fine and driver’s license suspension for one year.

Second offense within ten years of prior offense: Mandatory, minimum 10-day jail term (in addition to fines and license suspensions).

Second offense within five years of prior offense: Mandatory, minimum 20-day jail term (in addition to fines and license suspensions).

Convocation for DUI third offense or DWI felony: Prosecution as a class 6 felony. Mandatory, minimum $1,000 fine. Mandatory, indefinite driver’s license revocation.  If a Virginia motorist’s license has already been revoked for a first or second DUI offense conviction and the offender then receives another DUI, the revocation period will run consecutively with the existing revocation period.

Conviction for DUI third offense within ten years of prior offense: Mandatory, minimum 90-day jail term, and permanent forfeiture of your vehicle (if you are the sole owner).

Conviction for DUI third offense within five years of prior offense: Mandatory, minimum six-month jail term.

Conviction for DUI fourth or subsequent offense: Mandatory, minimum one-year jail term.

All motorists are prosecuted if law enforcement finds them to have a BAC over the legal limit, but motorists with exceptionally-high BAC levels will receive additional penalties under Virginia law.

BAC between .15% and .20% at the time of arrest: Mandatory, minimum five-day jail term in addition to all other penalties for a first offense; mandatory, minimum 10-day jail term in addition to all other penalties for a second offense within 10 years.

BAC of .20% or higher at the time of arrest: Mandatory, minimum 10-day jail term in addition to all other penalties for a first offense.

Changes to Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Taxes in Virginia

Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia, has spearheaded a new law that is estimated to generate $1.4 billion a year by revamping existing driving fees and taxes. This new revenue will used to improve the state’s roadway systems, especially the high-volume roadways in and around the Washington D.C. suburbs, which now accommodate far more traffic than the amount for which they were originally designed.

The new law, named House Bill 2313, will increase the share of sales tax that the state receives from its present rate of 4% up to 4.3%. With local sales tax added, the overall tax will increase from 5% to 5.3% for consumers making purchases.

The current Virginia 17.5 cents-per-gallon fuel tax will now become a flat-rate 3.5% tax on the wholesale of gasoline. Whereas the previous tax was based upon the volume of gas used, Bill 2313 will change this to a flat rate paid by motorists once, every time they purchase gas.  It is estimated to save users of gasoline powered cars about 6 cents per gallon, compared to the previous tax of 15.5 cents-per-gallon. According to projections using the current Virginia average gasoline price of just under $3.40 per gallon, the new tax would save drivers $1.20 on a 20-gallon fill-up.

For the first time in Virginia, diesel will also be taxed. The diesel tax is a wholesale flat rate of 6%, similar to the gas tax, but with a higher percentage paid at the pump.  According to projections, at last week’s average price per gallon of about $3.70, Virginia motorists who use diesel will pay 4 cents more per gallon, or 80 cents more than the existing tax for a 20-gallon fill-up.

The restructured taxes are designed to accommodate the increasing prices of fuel, as well as the rising popularity of electric and hybrid cars. Owners of these vehicles will now have to pay an annual $64 fee at the time of vehicle registration, with the rationale being that all motorists, not just those who use gasoline in their vehicles, should contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of Virginia’s roadways.