I trained all three of my kids to drive with the help of Stafford County Public School's driving program. From white-knuckled trips as copilot to watching my kids back out of the driveway by themselves for the first time, there were a few things that I realized teen drivers in Virginia need to know. There are serious challenges on our roads that, when paired with inexperience, can lead to dangerous consequences. Parents must partner with educators to communicate and reinforce this critical messaging repeatedly.
The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is dedicated as "the 100 deadliest days" for teen drivers by traffic safety experts. The weather is warm, school is ending, and it's prom and graduation season. During this time, our car insurance team sometimes witnesses the unfortunate details of teen traffic crashes when assisting our members and their families with auto claims. We know there's one rule that's key: Passenger restrictions. As a parent, I don't think anything was as challenging as enforcing provisional license passenger restrictions. And nothing as dangerous if I didn't.
The U.S. Department of Transportation declared vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for 15 to 18-year-olds in the United States. On top of that, research has found a teen's risk of being killed in a crash doubles with 2 passengers under the age of 21 and quadruples with 3 or more under 21 passengers.
The details of the VA law are specific and can be a bit confusing. It's easy for parents to forget exactly how to enforce them! So, let's break it down.
Virginia's law regarding passenger restrictions for teen drivers
1. If your teen driver is under 18, only one passenger under 21 is allowed during the first year of their driver’s license, unless a parent (who is a licensed driver) is in the seat beside them.
2. After successfully holding a license for one year, and until your teen driver turns 18, up to 3 passengers under age 21 are allowed in these situations only:
- when driving to or from a school-sponsored activity
- when a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old is in the seat beside you
- in cases of emergency.
Passenger restrictions do not apply to family members.
It makes good sense, right?! So, we shouldn't make enforcing these restrictions difficult for others by being the cool parent. It can be rather inconvenient at times, I know. When my kids were driving, there would be only one extra kid who needed a ride home from soccer practice. Or my daughter would need a ride in a car that already had another passenger. I was always the bad guy and said "no". I knew everyday hassles or my kid's persuading should never influence me to follow anything less than what Virginia law requires, and my gut told me was best for my child.
After these restrictions are lifted, the maturity of your son or daughter should determine the number of passengers you allow while they are driving or riding with a friend. They may be kids just being kids, but if you're not sure about your teen's behavior or their friends while driving a car, you may want to hold off on numbers of peer passengers a little longer.
This includes the times when your teen is the passenger. We even recommend not letting them ride with any teen driver with less than one year of driving experience. Also, give your teen an easy way out of an unsafe situation with a code word. Agree on a word or phrase that they can text you and you will go pick them up immediately, no questions asked.
Passengers aren't the only danger to your teen's driving safety. In Virginia, 62 percent of those teen drivers that lost their lives in 2015 weren’t wearing seat belts. Other risk factors for teens included distractions -especially texting and speed.
For teen drivers, Virginia's cellular telephone law prohibits the use of cell phones while driving, regardless of whether a device is or is not hand-held. You can only use a cell phone or any other telecommunications device for a driver emergency, and the vehicle must be lawfully parked or stopped.
Parents have to lead by example and never driving distracted. You should also talk with your young driver about distractions and all of the responsibilities that come with driving. Everyone in our family signed the pledge to commit to distraction-free driving, and I regularly reminded my kids that a violation of distracted-driving laws could mean a delayed or suspended license.
Teen fatalities from speed have almost doubled the numbers of overall fatalities in Virginia and 63 percent of those killed ran off the road. While these are horrible statistics, they serve as good reminders to keep the safety conversations going even after your teen has their license. We're sharing a great video below from the smart folks at IIHS that every parent should take the time to watch with their kids.
The bottom line? Enforce those critical passenger restrictions every single time. To protect our young drivers, parents need to make sure they stick to all of Virginia's new driver rules and guidelines. We highly recommend you prepare your teen driver for how to handle a car accident. Also, talk to your teen regularly about driving safety expectations and make sure they always buckle up. Take away driving privileges when necessary. And always model good driving habits for your kids, even when they're little. Then they will know what it looks like to drive safe and sound.