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New traffic safety laws effective July 1

7/1/2013, 1:22 p.m.
Motorists in Virginia who text behind- the-wheel, teen drivers, and moped operators are required to adhere to new traffic safety ...

Motorists in Virginia who text behind- the-wheel, teen drivers, and moped operators are required to adhere to new traffic safety laws as of July 1; that includes the nearly 970,000 who are expected to hit Virginia roads for the upcoming July 4 holiday.

On July 1, drivers who break the law by texting, teen drivers, and moped operators will all be required to adhere to new laws passed by law makers during the 2013 General Assembly Session. Traffic safety advocates believe that the new laws will positively impact safety on Virginia roads.

“These new laws address and raise awareness about some of the biggest dangers drivers face every day,” said John Saunders, Director of Highway Safety for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. “We know distractions like texting lead to crashes, it is important teenage drivers learn to drive safely and responsibly, and mopeds are some of the smallest vehicles sharing our roads, so safety is a top priority.”

The new laws include texting behind-the-wheel becomes a primary offense, provisional driver licensees for (under the age of 18) now restricted to fewer passengers, and moped operators must wear helmets, use eye protection, carry government issued ID, and register vehicles .

In April, Virginia lawmakers overwhelmingly passed HB1907 making texting behind the wheel a primary traffic offense. The new law allows police officers to pull and cite drivers for texting behind the wheel without first having to witness them violating another law and those who are ticketed will also face steeper penalties. Drivers who enter multiple letters or text as a means to communicate or who read a text message or email are guilty under the new statute. Fines for a first offense are $125 and $250 for a second or subsequent offense. Drivers convicted of reckless driving who are also texting could face a $250 fine.

“This new law will help traffic safety advocates across Virginia remind drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their mind on the task of driving,” said Debbie Pickford, board chair – DRIVE SMART Virginia. “Education and strong enforcement are key components to successfully reducing distraction related crashes.”

SB 1165, sponsored by Sen. Steve Newman, limits the number of passengers who can ride with a first year provision licensee (unless accompanied by a parent who holds a valid driver’s license and is in the front passenger seat) to one who is less than 21 years old. After the first year the provisional license may drive with up to three passengers who are less than 21 years old ONLY IF driving to or from a school-sponsored activity, or licensed driver who is at least 21 years old is occupying the seat beside the driver, or in an emergency. The current law allows no more than one passenger under the age of 18 for the first year and no more than three passengers under the age of 18 until the driver’s 18th birthday. Both the current and new laws provided exceptions for passengers who are members of the driver’s family and/ or household.

“Novice drivers are just that - Novices, Rookies, Beginners - thus they need as much focused practice behind the wheel as possible before they gain the freedom to drive without any restrictions,” said Meade. “Statistics prove that limiting passenger for new drivers reduces their crash risk, thus this law is one more positive step forward in the fight to save precious young lives in Virginia.”

Additionally, every moped driver is now required to carry a government-issued photo ID, which does not have to be a driver’s license, and every moped driver and passenger must wear a helmet. Drivers must also wear a face shield, safety glasses or goggles unless the moped has a windshield.

Virginia law will now require mopeds operated on Virginia roadways to be titled and registered by July 1, 2014, but moped owners can jump start the process this summer. DMV will begin titling and registering mopeds on July 1, 2013. A moped title is $10. The annual registration fee is $20.25.

“Under current law, the lack of any identifying information on a moped makes them nearly impossible to recover after theft and complicates identification of the vehicle and operator in the event of a crash,” said John Saunders, DMV’s Director of Highway Safety. “For example, a member of the law enforcement community recounted a situation where it took a few days to identify a victim who had died in a moped crash because there was no identifying information on the victim or moped.”