“Driving is not a right, it’s a privilege in Virginia.” Summed up, that means you have to have a valid license to drive, and your license can be revoked or suspended for certain infractions or criminal convictions.

Do I have to have car insurance?

Here is how it works in Virginia: if you own a car, you have to register your car and provide the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with proof of insurance or the payment of $500 per year as the annual uninsured motor vehicle fee. You may, however, opt to satisfy DMV with proof of a security bond and receive a self-insurance certificate. Thus, you basically have three options to satisfy the law; you can 1) insure your vehicle with bodily injury coverage with the minimum liability coverage of $25,000 per person/ $50,000 total for all persons per accident, and $20,000 in property damage, 2) receive a self-insurance certificate from DMV to show proof of a security bond, or 3) pay the uninsured DMV annual fee.

What happens if I get too many traffic tickets?

The more traffic convictions you get, the stiffer the penalties. Certain “traffic tickets” call for the court to suspend your license.

In Virginia, driving violations are rated according to demerit points. When you are convicted of certain violations, your driving record is “pinged” (penalized) with demerit points assigned to those violations. With an accumulation of demerit points your driver’s license can be suspended. Demerit point suspensions depend on age, number of demerit points, and nature of offense. Minor violations are -3 points, major violations are -6 points. When you accumulate a certain number of demerit points, the Department of Motor Vehicles will take action such as requiring you to attend a driver improvement course, conducting an interview with you, placing you on probation, or even revoking your driver’s license. In addition, multiple driving violations will impact the cost of your insurance and possibly your ability to obtain and maintain car insurance. Driving improvement classes are also available on a voluntary basis and when completed it will reduce your total overall demerit points.

Can I smoke in the car while someone else pumps gas?

No. Any person who smokes or uses an open flame within twenty feet of a fuel pump is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable up to a $500 fine. Anyone who causes a fire or explosion as a result of smoking at the pump can be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor.

What about texting while driving?

Don’t even think about it. Texting and driving could easily lead to you or someone else being killed.

Using a phone, tablet, or any other device is dangerous. It is unlawful to operate a moving motor vehicle while holding a handheld device, or using any hand-held personal communications device to text or read any email or text message. There is a $125 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine for every subsequent violation. It is prohibited for a person to hold a handheld personal communications device in your hand while driving in a highway work zone, with certain exceptions. There is a mandatory fine of $250 for violating this law.

Can I use the GPS or look at my phone while driving?

No. Unless you have a hands-free device in your car. As of January 1, 2021, it unlawful to hold a handheld personal communication device while driving. A first-time violation carries a fine of $125, and a second or subsequent offense $250.

Do I have to wear a seat belt?

The short answer is “Yes.” The long answer is that the law in Virginia requires all persons 16 years or older occupying the front seat of a motor vehicle to wear their seat belts while the vehicle is in motion. There are exceptions for those with medical problems (you must have a signed statement by a doctor) and for certain professions such as mail carriers and newspaper deliverers. In addition, if you are the driver, you are responsible for ensuring that anyone less than 18 years old except for those required to be secured in a child restraint are properly fastened.

How do I become an organ donor?

You can register as an organ donor when you apply for a new driver’s license or renew your ­existing license. You can also contact DMV at any other time about the process and/or indicate same in some form of end of life directive/document.

What should I do if I am involved in an accident?

If you are involved in an accident resulting in injury or property damage, you must immediately stop as close to the scene of the accident as possible, without obstructing traffic, and report your name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number to the police and to the other people involved in the accident. Further, you must provide reasonable assistance to anyone injured.

If an accident occurs that results only in damage to an unattended vehicle or property, you must make a reasonable effort to find the owner of the vehicle or property and provide the same information as above. If the owner cannot be located, you must leave a note in a visible place at the scene of the accident and provide a written report to the police within 24 hours.

The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death shall give immediate notice to law enforcement — failure to report this can result in criminal charges.

What should I do if there is a stopped vehicle with flashing lights, like a police car, at the side of the road?

Proceed with caution — it’s the law. When you approach a stationary vehicle on a highway with at least four lanes, two of which are designated for travel in the same direction as you, for the safety of your vehicle and others, cautiously (with regard for the safety and traffic conditions), yield the right of way by making a lane change. You should make a lane change into the lane farthest from the stationary vehicle. If safe, move over! If such a lane change is not safe, ­proceed with caution and at a safe speed at least ten miles below the posted speed limit.

Highway safety is always of the utmost importance. Violation of this law can result in conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor that can be punished with jail time, a fine, and license suspension.

Do I need to establish legal presence in the U.S. in order to get a driver’s license or an identification card in Virginia?

No. You no longer need to establish legal presence in Virginia in order to get a driver’s license or identification card in Virginia. You must establish that you are a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which can be established with school records.

So You’re 18 is presented by the Virginia State Bar Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations.
For print copies of So You're 18 contact (804) 775-0521 or [email protected].