Source reader Edmund Banaszak wrote in to ask: "How can I obtain a copy of the USVI Distracted Driving Act?"
The V.I. Legislature can make a copy of the two separate acts of the Legislature that make up this act, but the text of the law is also available online, for free, through Lexis Nexis. (See link below)
In essence, the USVI makes it illegal to talk or text on any hand-held device while driving. The Legislature passed the original Distracted Driving Act in 2005 and it was signed into law in 2006. It was amended in 2009 to add texting and in 2011 to increase the penalties for infractions.
The fine is $100 for the first offense and $200 for a second offense. A third offense within a three-year period is punishable by a fine of $300 and possible drivers license suspension for up to a year.
It is legal to use hands-free phones, except for those driving on a learner’s permit and for school bus drivers. Those two categories of drivers are forbidden to use any type of phone while driving, except in an emergency.
In Fiscal Year 2015, the V.I. Police Department issued 3,724 tickets on St. Croix alone for moving violations, of which 119, or about 3 percent, were for using a cell phone while driving.
The full text of the V.I. Distracted Drivers Act, as codified in law, is below:
Title 20, VIC 509 and 509a:
509. Use of handheld mobile telephones while driving prohibited
As used in this section, the following words and phrases have the meanings given to them in this subsection.
(1) "Engage in a call" means talking into or listening on a hand-held mobile telephone, but does not include holding a mobile telephone to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of such telephone.
(2) "Handheld mobile telephone" means a mobile telephone other than a hands-free mobile telephone with which a user engages in a call using at least one hand.
(3) "Hands-free device" means an attachment, add-on, built-in feature or addition to a mobile telephone which, when used, allows the user to engage, in a call without the use of either hand, whether or not the use of either hand is necessary to activate, deactivate or initiate a function of the mobile telephone.
(4) "Mobile telephone" means the device used by subscribers and other users of wireless telephone service to access such service.
(5) "Motor vehicle" means any vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public roads and highways.
(6) "Using" means holding a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of the user’s ear.
(b) (1) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (c), no person may operate a motor vehicle upon the public roads or highways of the Virgin Islands while using a handheld mobile telephone to engage in a call while the vehicle is in motion.
(2) A driver of school bus carrying passengers may not use a mobile telephone or other electronic device, including a device with hands-free accessories, while the school bus is moving; except that this section does not apply to a driver of a school bus while placing an emergency call to school officials, or to an emergency response agency set forth in subsection (c)(1).
(3) A person who holds a learner’s permit may not use a mobile telephone or other electronic device, including a device with hands-free accessories, while operating a moving, motor vehicle on a public street or highway, except in an emergency as set forth in subsection (c) paragraph (1).
(4) An operator of a motor vehicle who holds a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of his ear while the vehicle is in motion is presumed to be engaging in a call within the meaning of this section.
(A) The presumption established by this paragraph is rebuttable by evidence tending to show that the operator was not engaged in a call.
(B) For purposes of this paragraph, "immediate proximity" means that distance as permits the operator of a mobile telephone to hear telecommunications transmitted over the mobile telephone, but does not require physical contact with the operator’s ear.
(5) A person who violates this subsection shall be fined not less than $ 25, but not more than $ 100.
(6) A person at fault for a second or subsequent violation shall be fined not less than $ 50, but not more than $ 200.
(7) A person at fault for three or more violations within a three-year period shall be fined not less than $ 100 or more than $ 500 and may have his driver’s license suspended for a period not to exceed one year.
(c) The provisions of this section do not apply to
(1) the use of a mobile telephone for the sole purpose of communicating regarding an emergency situation to an emergency response operator; a hospital, physician’s office or health clinic; an ambulance company or corps; a fire department, rescue unit or other emergency responder a police department or other law enforcement agency, local or federal.
509a. Text-based communications prohibited
(a) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication.
(b) As used in this section "write, send, or read a text-based communication" means
(1) using an electronic wireless communications device to manually communicate with any person using a text-based communication, including, but not limited to, communications referred to as a text message, instant message, or electronic mail; or
(2) using an electronic wireless communications device to manually read, select, or enter a telephone number or name in an electronic wireless communications device for the purpose of making or receiving a telephone call.
(c) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a fine of fifty dollars ($ 50) for a first offense.
(d) A second or subsequent violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a fine of not less than seventy dollars ($ 75) [sic], but not more than two hundred dollars ($ 200).
(e) Three or more violations of this section within a three year period are punishable by a fine of not less than two hundred dollars ($ 200), but not more than four hundred dollars ($ 400), and a person to whom this subsection applies may have his driver’s license suspended for a period not to exceed l year.