Safe Travels

    Kids, Cars, and Virginia's Laws

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    When my daughter was four months old, my mother asked when I would turn her rear-facing car seat around so she could be “more entertained and less prone to suffer from motion sickness.” Tiny from the get-go, my daughter was nowhere near the height and weight recommendations for the forward-facing position, so I carefully explained to my mother the virtues and regulations surrounding car safety. I may have even thrown in something about today’s standards differing wildly from the days of my childhood, when she probably threw me in a cardboard box on the front seat next to her.

    It’s true, car safety standards have progressed quite a bit in the last several decades, and Virginia has several laws in place to ensure road safety. Here are some basics.

    Seat belts: Virginia requires children under 8 to be placed in car safety seats approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Rear-facing infant car seats are prohibited in the front seat of passenger vehicles, unless the vehicle does not have a back seat area. Additionally, all drivers and front seat passengers must be secured by safety belts, and kids under 18 must be secured by a safety belt, regardless of where they sit in the vehicle.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that all children 12 and under buckle up in the back seat. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t even have an age cut-off for this recommendation, stating, “Sitting in the back seat is safest for every human being.”

    Texting: As of 2009, it is illegal to text and drive in Virginia. Roughly one third of Virginia drivers admitted to texting while driving in a 2008 study by Vlingo, and that’s only the people who admitted to it. Since texting while driving can increase risk of crash more than 23 times compared to non-distracted driving (VTTI, 2009), the prohibition on texting while driving is a necessary move toward road safety in Virginia.

    Cell Phones: Kids under age of 18 are banned from using any mobile device, even hands-free, while driving. Frankly, we all know the horror stories of accidents caused by drivers who were distracted by cell phone use. As parents and responsible adults, we all need to take Oprah’s No Phone Zone challenge and refrain from talking on our cell phones while driving. Whether the law requires it or not, it’s the right move.

    Driving Under the influence: It’s no surprise that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is prohibited, but pay attention, because Virginia’s laws are tough. First time offenders face a one-year suspension of driving privileges as well as possible fines and jail time. And if there is a minor present in the vehicle? Mandatory jail time, even for first time offenders. Penalties get much steeper for multiple offenders.

    Driving is serious business. And there are lots of choices we make each time we get behind a wheel and join the masses out on the roads. When parents strive to make their choices reflect how much they love their kids, the roads will be safer for everyone.

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    Kelly Hall
    Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. She practices law in Richmond.