Design requirements for distributed real-time applications at the network level are addressed. An idealized protocol for handling messages with different priority classes should take advantage of both CSMA/CD and token-passing bus protocols. The proposed multiaccess protocol, based on the virtual token concept, is able to achieve the desired design requirements and perform closely to the idealized case. Fault management in the proposed protocol is simpler than the token-passing protocol because no physical token is involved. It is shown that a simple static binary search scheme is sufficient to assess the channel priority and to eliminate the inherent computational complexity needed in the dynamic search scheme. Simulation results have shown that the overhead spent in implementing the protocol is relatively small.