Certain states throughout the country have experienced a rise in traffic accidents in recent years, and Virginia is no exception. Virginia hit its 14-year high for traffic-related fatalities in 2021. According to the annual report of the state’s Highway Safety Office, more than 960 people died in crashes and collisions on Virginia’s roadways for 2021, translating into a 14% increase compared to total auto accident fatalities in the previous year. For injuries caused by auto accidents, the DMV documented 58,786 in total for 2021, more than the 52,668 instances recorded for 2020.
Virginia has its own laws regarding driving properly and handling the aftermath of car crashes. Given the relative frequency of car accidents in the state, particularly in highly populated urban locations, motorists are advised to learn and follow these regulations to ensure the safety of other drivers and prevent the occurrence of any accident that can result in injuries or deaths.
Virginia Speed Limits
In line with Virginia driving regulations, motorists must follow appropriate speed limits when driving through certain areas. In general, they must not exceed any specified limits by 20 mph or more. Any driver who violates these regulations and consequently puts other civilians in danger can thus be charged by a law enforcement officer for a misdemeanor related to reckless driving. As a result, they can have their driver’s licenses and driving privileges suspended. Cases resulting in death can easily warrant a jail sentence, particularly if the offending driver’s license was revoked or suspended at the time of the offense.
The speed limits in Virginia are as follows:
25 mph while driving within residential, business, or school areas
35 mph while navigating unpaved roads
55 mph for all other roads that do not fall within these categories
Drivers are also advised to reduce their speed accordingly when navigating roadways in the middle of bad weather or when passing through areas that are under construction.
Virginia Seat Belt Laws
Virginia state law decrees that the driver of a motor vehicle must wear a seat belt at all times while the vehicle in question is moving along a public highway. This law also applies to commuters at least 18 years old and occupying the vehicle’s front seat. An additional statute requires drivers to provide and secure those under the age of 18 with a safety belt system in vehicles equipped with such systems or required by law to have them.
The exceptions to Virginia’s seat belt law include:
The drivers and passengers of taxis
Law enforcement personnel who are transporting people in custody in situations where wearing a seat belt is impractical
Those who cannot wear a seat belt according to a licensed physician’s evaluation, provided that the person in question has a written statement from the physician detailing the reason/s for their exemption
Operators and passengers of commercial or municipal vehicles who collect/deliver goods or services and enter/exit their vehicle regularly to perform such duties
For these personnel, seat belt laws apply once again when their duties end or when their vehicle is in transit to/from their final point of destination or disposal
Those who fail to follow these regulations concerning Virginia’s seat belt law can be charged through the state’s uniform traffic summons form and are subject to a $25 penalty. However, no court fees or demerit points are incurred due to any violations.
For motor vehicle crashes and collisions where a person has failed to comply with the state’s seat belt regulations, such violations will not count as negligence on the person’s part. This means that the person’s failure to wear a seat belt will not be considered a factor or treated as evidence against their recovery of any economic and non-economic compensation for losses that resulted from the accident.
The Right-Of-Way on Virginia Roads
The right-of-way for traffic in Virginia varies depending on the circumstances and locations involved. On uncontrolled intersections where vehicles approach or enter simultaneously, those on the left side will yield the right-of-way to drivers on the right. On highways or intersections controlled by a stop sign, stop line, or crosswalk, motorists entering these areas must stop at these points and allow other vehicles in either direction to pass first. If these points are absent, drivers must stop at the area closest to the intersection where they have a clear view of oncoming traffic. For circular intersections, the right-of-way is given to any motor vehicles already within the area unless directed otherwise by traffic control devices.
Pedestrians in Virginia are given the right-of-way in any situation. However, a pedestrian must only cross at junctions or areas with crosswalks and must not intentionally or carelessly obstruct the flow of vehicles in these locations. If there are no crosswalks, an individual will not be deemed guilty of negligence when crossing such areas. Pedestrians may be allowed to cross an intersection diagonally, provided all traffic within the area is stopped by a law enforcement officer, a streetlight, or other traffic control devices. They are not allowed to cross a highway or intersection from where an obstruction blocks their presence.
Aggressive Driving Law
Aggressive driving involves scenarios where a motorist intentionally obstructs, harasses, intimidates, or injures another driver while ignoring traffic regulations by speeding, tailgating, ignoring signals, or making unsafe lane changes. In such situations, motorists are advised to steer clear of an aggressive driver’s vehicle and not to speed up or make attempts to overtake the vehicle.
Those found guilty of aggressive driving can be fined up to $1,000 or charged with a jail sentence that extends up to six months. If they had the intent to injure another motorist, they could be jailed for up to one year or required to pay a $2,500 fine. In both cases, their driver’s license can also be suspended, and the Virginia DMV will give them four demerit points. Aggressive driving violations remain on an offending motorist’s record and cannot be expunged.
Distracted Driving Law
Distracted driving occurs when a motorist fails to focus on the road by using a cell phone, eating, grooming themselves, or speaking with other passengers while operating a vehicle. The state prohibits all motorists from using cell phones or other wireless communication devices while driving. Exceptions can apply for drivers using such a device for navigation, provided they are not holding it or inputting information while driving.
Individuals convicted of distracted driving are fined $125 on their first offense. If they commit any subsequent offenses, the fine increases up to $250.
Drunk Driving Law
Increased alcohol intake can easily impair a driver’s awareness and ability to operate a vehicle, translating into a potential accident on the road. According to Virginia law, any driver whose blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches or exceeds .08% is considered to be driving under the influence. This metric applies to motorists below 21 years of age and counts as impairment even if their BAC is lower than .08%. In addition, they can be charged for illegal alcohol consumption if they have a BAC level that exceeds .02% and falls below .08%.
Drivers found to be driving under the influence of alcohol will receive various penalties, depending on how many offenses they have accrued.
On the first offense, there will be a fine of $250 and a five- to 10-day confinement in jail based on the level of an offender’s BAC.
On second offenses that occur within five years from the first, there is a $500 fine, and the offender will serve 20 days in jail.
On second offenses that occur five to ten years from the first, an offender also pays a $500 fine and can be jailed between 10 days to over a month.
For three offenses occurring within ten years, there will be a minimum jail sentence of 90 days and a fine equal to $1,000. From this point onward, any offenses will also result in the indefinite revocation of an offender’s driver’s license.
If these offenses occurred within five years, a drunk driver will serve up to a minimum sentence of six months in jail, on top of paying a $1,000 fine. Any subsequent offenses after this will result in a minimum sentence of one year.
Those found guilty of drunk driving while transporting a person aged 17 or younger are fined between $500 and $1,000 and will serve a minimum of five days in jail.
Accident Reporting and Hit-and-Run Laws
Virginia requires motorists to follow certain procedures after a car accident, particularly if the incident involves injuries, fatalities, or property damage that exceeds $1,500. Drivers are required to stop their vehicles at the scene of any collision they are involved in. Failure to do so may result in a driver being charged with a hit-and-run violation and a misdemeanor or felony charge, depending on whether the accident involved damaged property, injuries, or fatalities.
Drivers must stop their vehicles as close to the accident site as possible without obstructing other vehicles. They must then relay their name and address, as well as their driver’s license and vehicle registration numbers, to law enforcement personnel and the other persons involved in the accident. In addition, they must provide injured individuals with reasonable assistance by taking them to the nearest hospital or medical facility for treatment.
If an accident involves only unattended property, a driver must seek the owner out to provide the necessary information, regardless of whether the accident occurred on private or public property. If the owner cannot be located, drivers must leave a note containing their name, contact information, the date and time of the accident, and the details of the damage arising from the incident.
Virginia Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements
Virginia law requires all motorists in the state to possess liability insurance to cover any injuries, fatalities, or damaged property in the wake of a car crash or collision. The minimum insurance coverage required by Virginia for motor vehicles is as follows:
For policies that are effective until January 1, 2022
$25,000 for injuries or deaths per person
$50,000 for injuries or deaths per accident
$20,000 for damaged property
For policies that are effective from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2024
$30,000 for injuries or deaths per person
$60,000 for injuries or deaths per accident
$20,000 for damaged property
For policies that are effective on or after January 1, 2025
$50,000 for injuries or deaths per person
$100,000 for injuries or deaths per accident
$25,000 for damaged property
Drivers are required to have their proof of insurance in their vehicle at all times. Those who do not have any form of liability insurance can be barred from driving or registering their vehicles. This also counts for those who have not paid the uninsured motor vehicle fee of $500, which only allows motorists to drive an uninsured vehicle at their own risk and does not provide any type of coverage. Their driving and registration privileges are only reinstated if they pay the appropriate fees and file a Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate with the Virginia DMV for three years.
Virginia Is a No-Fault State for Insurance Claims
Virginia follows “at-fault” insurance mandates, meaning that those involved in a car accident within the state can seek compensation for their injuries and damaged property from an offending driver or insurance provider. Filing an injury claim is often done to help car accident victims cover their losses if the at-fault motorist is uninsured or underinsured. Victims can also pursue damages from third parties involved in the accident. This includes auto companies that manufacture defective vehicle parts and government agencies that fail to maintain the road where a crash or collision occurred.
Virginia Is a Contributory Negligence State for Car Accident Lawsuits
In addition to being an at-fault state for insurance claims, Virginia adheres to the doctrine of contributory negligence as applied to personal injury lawsuits. This means that a victim’s negligent actions, regardless of their significance, will bar them from filing a lawsuit for damages. As such, a defendant in a car accident case within the state has to be 100% liable for the accident if a plaintiff is to recover economic and/or non-economic damages.
One possible exception to the state’s contributory negligence mandate can apply to accidents involving buses or common carriers such as airplanes. A passenger injured in such an accident can file a negligence claim against both the bus driver and the company if it is determined that a safety code was violated in the crash.
Statute of Limitations for Virginia Car Accident Lawsuits
Those involved in car accidents throughout Virginia have up to two years to file an injury claim, starting from the date of the crash. Car accident victims who miss this two-year deadline will be barred from filing claims, and a lawsuit will most likely be dismissed if brought to court.
Car accidents that result in wrongful death follow a slightly different statute, where the two-year limit begins on the date of the victim’s passing. For cases involving damage to a plaintiff’s property or injuries to an infant, the statute of limitations lasts up to five years, starting from the date of the crash.
There are certain exceptions to the statute of limitations for car accident lawsuits. For example, if any victims are involved in an accident while under the age of 18, the statute will only begin on their 18th birthday. This also applies to those deemed incapacitated, and the statute starts once they recover from their incapacitation. If appointed guardians or conservators represent an incapacitated person’s interests in a case, they will have at least one year from the date of their appointment to file a claim or lawsuit.
Another time when Virginia's statute of limitations might not apply is when the person who caused the plaintiff's injuries makes it hard to file a lawsuit by going bankrupt or using direct or indirect means to “obstruct” the start of any legal proceedings. These means can include leaving the state to avoid the lawsuit or living under a false name. In these cases, the duration of the defendant’s obstruction may not be added to the limit of two years.
Average Settlement for Virginia Car Accident Lawsuits
While the total amount of compensation that can be recovered after a car accident varies from case to case, Virginia imposes a cap on certain recoverable damages. For example, a plaintiff can only claim up to $350,000 in punitive damages. A victim of a car accident caused by a Commonwealth employee is only entitled to $100,000 or the highest amount of the applicable liability insurance policy, whichever is higher. Lastly, a plaintiff can only get up to $2,500 from a minor’s parents in a car accident where the minor in question willfully or maliciously caused damage to public or private property.
Legal Resources for Car Accident Victims in Virginia
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles - Accident Reports
People in Virginia who want to get car accident reports can go to the website of the Department of Motor Vehicles and fill out the Information Request Form. Citizens can also visit the website for information on submitting written requests. The website also offers guidelines on how to pay for a report, depending on how and where a request was filed. Citizens can also contact the department’s customer service center to schedule walk-in appointments. For additional inquiries, the department can be reached at 804-497-7100. For queries made through e-mail, motorists must complete the department’s online form.
Virginia Department of Transportation - Tort Claims
The Virginia Department of Transportation’s website offers state residents the option to submit a tort claim for instances where their property was damaged due to the negligence of the department and its employees. There is also a section on the website that tells people how to file a tort claim and what they need to do to make sure their claim is valid.
State Corporation Commission - Automobile Insurance Information
The website for the State Corporation Commission of the Commonwealth of Virginia has different sections with information that help people understand personal auto insurance and their rights with it. The website also offers information on how one’s insurance credit scores can affect auto insurance and offers guidelines for teenagers who wish to learn about their coverage options.
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles - Liability Insurance Requirements
On the Department of Motor Vehicles' website, there are sections about accident reports, and there is also more information about how Virginians can monitor and check their own liability insurance coverage. It also has subsections informing site visitors on how to pay an uninsured motor vehicle fee or reinstatement fee.
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