RICHMOND — New laws
in Virginia taking effect July 1 take a tougher stance on drunken driving and
driving while distracted.
Under current law in Virginia a conviction of
driving while intoxicated (DWI) is not considered a felony unless it is a third
DWI conviction within 10 years. Effective July 1, any DWI conviction will be a
felony if a person has a prior conviction of involuntary manslaughter involving
alcohol, including involuntary manslaughter while boating involving alcohol; DWI
maiming; boating while intoxicated/maiming; and or a DWI third offense or
A DWI felony conviction mandates a minimum fine of
$1,000 and one year in prison.
Also beginning July 1, texting while driving
is a primary offense with increased penalties. Currently texting while driving
is a secondary offense and can only be charged when the offender is stopped for
another, separate offense.
A texting while driving conviction will carry a
$125 fine for the first offense and $250 for second or subsequent offenses.
Current penalties are $20 for a first offense and $50 for a second or subsequent
The new law also increases the punishment of any person convicted of
reckless driving to include a $250 mandatory fine if the person was texting at
the time of a reckless driving offense.
The Virginia Department of Motor
Vehicles reports that more than 20 percent — 28,112 — of all auto crashes in
Virginia last year were attributable to distracted driving. More than 28,000
crashes resulted in 174 fatalities and 16,709 injuries.
Nearly 1,700 crashes
involved drivers using cell phones or texting while operating a motor vehicle,
the DMV said.
"The approaching Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to
remind drivers to focus on the task of driving and not drive impaired or
distracted," said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb.
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"People are dying and
being seriously injured because of drunk and distracted driving. These offenses
put not only the driver and their family in danger, but this risky behavior also
jeopardizes everyone else traveling on the roadways."