Virginia Takes Steps to Improve Highway Safety, Deter Injuries

The state of Virginia has shown “moderate positive performance” but still has gaps in its highway safety laws, a safety advocacy organization says in a recent report.

Advocates for Highway Safety, which includes insurers and consumer groups, promotes a number of state and federal laws that they say would save lives and reduce traffic accidents and highway fatalities.

Virginia was among 29 states receiving a yellow ranking by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The organization issued green rankings for 10 states that have adopted many of the safety laws it supports and red rankings for 11 states that have not adopted many of its recommendations.

Within the last year, Virginia added at least one law that the organization supports when it enhanced a ban on texting and driving.

Virginia made texting while driving a primary traffic offense, meaning that police can pull over a driver because of texting alone. In the past, officers could ticket a driver for texting only after seeing another reason like speeding or running a stoplight. The state raised traffic tickets for texting behind the wheel from $20 to $125 for the first offense and $250 subsequent tickets.

Another new law requires back-seat passengers under age 18 to wear seatbelts, although the fine for a violation is only $25. Other legal changes include tougher punishment for school bus drivers who consume alcohol on the job and alterations to Virginia’s revoked and restricted licenses for drivers convicted of DUI and other traffic crimes.

The enhanced texting-and-driving ban in Virginia pleased the advocacy group, but the Washington Post notes that drivers can still use their hands to make calls on a cellphone or use GPS.

The organization’s 2014 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws discusses states’ progress in enacting such laws.  The group urges Virginia to:

  • Provide for primary enforcement of seatbelt requirements. Currently police must see a driver commit another offense before they can issue a ticket for a seatbelt violation.
  • Prohibit open containers of alcohol in cars.
  • Add graduated license restrictions on nighttime driving, number of passengers and cellphone use.
  • Set a minimum age of 16 for a learner’s permit.

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