Improvements Made To Virginia Teen Driving Law

AAA Led Effort to Correct Omission in VA Code

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VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (March 9, 2016) – Since 2007, Virginia law has stated that teenage drivers were not allowed to use any electronic device while driving, but there was something amiss. The Virginia General Assembly amended the Virginia law in 2007 to prohibit the use of cell phones and electronic devices by those holding provisional driver’s licenses, under the age of 18. The language, however, did not define who could or could not use cell phones when behind the wheel for those holding “learner’s permits.” This year, AAA worked with Senator John A. Cosgrove Jr.(R) of Chesapeake, to amend Virginia code to prohibit all learners’ permit holders from using any cellular telephone or wireless telecommunications device while behind the wheel. Corrections to the statute related to passenger restrictions were also passed.

Senate Bill 555 (Cosgrove) is a legislative fix for inconsistencies that have resulted from multiple amendments to the Commonwealth’s teen driving laws. These changes should help to reduce the number of injuries and deaths associated with novice, at-risk drivers. The bill, which passed unanimously in both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, is now on its way to Governor McAuliffe’s desk for his signature. Changes to VA law include:

  • Prohibits the holder of a learner’s permit, regardless of age, from using a cellular telephone or any other wireless telecommunications device. This is the same restriction placed on the holder of a provisional license.

  • Limits the holder of a learner’s permit to one unrelated passenger under 21. Current law limits the learner’s permit holder to one unrelated passenger under 18.

  • Limits a provisional license holder under the age of 18 to one unrelated passenger under 21 in the car. Current law allows an unlimited number of unrelated passengers under 21 to be in a car with a driver under 18, as long as a parent is in the passenger's seat.

AAA led the effort to make this change, working with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Education, Virginia State Police representatives and lawmakers over the summer to clarify the apparent code omission and in preparation for the 2016 General Assembly.  AAA has been and continues to be resolute in its efforts to improve traffic safety. “Car crashes are the leading cause in deaths for drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 in the United States. It is our hope that these changes will help save lives,” said Georjeane Blumling, Vice President of Public Affairs for AAA Tidewater Virginia.

The following statistics support the need to address teen driver safety.

  • The most common form of distractions leading to a teen driver crash are:

    • 15% interacting with one or more passengers

    • 12% using a cellphone

    • 10% looking at something in the vehicle

  • Compared to driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s fatality risk:

    • Increases by 42 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21 (and no older passengers)

    • Doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers)

    • Quadruples when carrying three or more passengers younger than 21 (and no older passengers)

  • Conversely, carrying at least one passenger aged 35 or older cuts a teen driver’s risk of death by 62 percent, and risk of involvement in any police-reported crash by 46 percent, highlighting the protective influence that parents and other adults have in the car.

  • Despite recent progress, the new report from AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety confirms that carrying young passengers (under 21) is still a major risk factor for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.

  • Research involving nearly 1,700 car crash videos shows that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 teen crashes.

 As part of North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA Tidewater Virginia provides its more than 330,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding AAA Tidewater Virginia has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.  For more information, visit AAA.com and follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/AAATidewaterVA or on Facebook at facebook.com/AAATidewaterVirginia