West Virginia roads saw 249 fatal crashes in 2020, leading to 267 deaths. Recently, the state reached a 1.40 fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled for 2022, compared to the US average of 1.30. These figures show the need for understanding the state’s rules on auto accidents and actions people may take to protect their rights and pursue compensation in the event of a car accident.
The state has also developed the 2022-2026 West Virginia Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which outlines a comprehensive approach to reducing traffic fatalities and injuries on the state's roadways. It addresses the various factors contributing to crashes, such as impaired, reckless, and distracted driving.
West Virginia Impaired Driving Law
According to West Virginia DMV, the statewide DUI conviction rates for 2020 reached an average of 22%, with two counties reaching over 75%. There were a total of 2,397 DUI arrests and 551 convicted individuals. To counter this, the state has enforced the Impaired Driving Law, which states that it is illegal for anyone to operate a motor vehicle on a public roadway or highway while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or greater or drug use has rendered him or her unable to operate a vehicle safely, that person is regarded as under the influence.
GHSP and NHTSA also run a campaign known as "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" to help combat impaired driving, to increase public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving and the consequences of getting caught.
If a driver is found to be driving under the influence, he or she can be charged with a DUI offense, where the first offense includes fines ranging from $100 to $500, a license suspension of up to six months, and up to six months in jail. Subsequent offenses lead to harsher penalties, including fines of up to $5,000, up to three years in prison, and longer license suspensions.
A DUI offense can also result in other administrative penalties, such as the revocation of the driver's license. Driving on public highways in West Virginia is subject to an implied consent statute, which indicates that drivers consent to do a chemical test to check their blood alcohol content (BAC) or for narcotics in their system.
Even if you are eventually found not guilty of a DUI crime, refusing to submit to a chemical test can result in the immediate suspension of your driver's license for up to one year.
West Virginia Reckless Driving Law
The West Virginia Reckless Driving Law protects victims against drivers operating a vehicle on any roadway without regard for other people's or property's safety. Some examples of reckless driving include excessive speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, and driving in a manner that puts others in danger.
Reckless driving is considered a misdemeanor offense and can carry severe penalties. First-time offenders may get a sentence of up to 90 days in jail and a fine not exceeding $500, while repeat offenders may receive up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1000.
Additionally, a conviction for this offense may have long-term repercussions, like higher insurance costs, the suspension of one's driver's license, and trouble finding employment.
West Virginia Hands-Free Law
From 2016 to 2020, the state had an average of 279 fatal car crashes, with 69 involving distracted drivers. To reduce deadly accidents, West Virginia’s Hands-Free Law prohibits drivers from using handheld devices while driving. It is also complemented by various initiatives, including U Drive. U Text. U Pay., Connect to Disconnect (C2D), and One Text or Call Could Wreck it All.
The law makes it illegal for drivers to hold a mobile phone or other electronic devices while driving. This includes texting, making phone calls, or using any other functions on a handheld device. On the other hand, drivers are still permitted to use hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth headsets or voice-activated controls.
Violation of the hands-free law is considered a primary offense, meaning law enforcement officers can pull you over for violating the rule without any other traffic violations. The first offense for violating this law carries a fine of $100, while subsequent offenses can result in penalties of up to $200.
West Virginia Left Lane Law
The West Virginia Left Lane Law requires drivers to pass on the left or use the right-hand lane on a multi-lane highway or interstate unless passing another vehicle or turning left. It also emphasizes the importance of keeping right and provides tips for safe driving on multi-lane highways and interstates.
Additionally, WV Code Section 17C-7-5 states that drivers of slow-moving vehicles should keep to the right-hand lane, except when passing or making a left-hand turn.
Under the Left Lane Law, drivers must keep to the right-hand lane except when:
Passing another vehicle
Driving on a road with three or more lanes where the left-hand lane is designated for passing only
Avoiding an obstruction or hazard in the right-hand lane
Driving in a designated HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle) lane
The law aims to maintain free-flowing traffic and lessen traffic congestion, and violators are guilty of a misdemeanor. First-time offenders face fines not exceeding $100, second offenses made within a year can lead to fines of up to $200, and subsequent convictions may lead to a fine of $500.
West Virginia Click It or Ticket Seat Belt Law
According to the CDC, West Virginia saw 2,268 passenger vehicle occupants killed from 2009 to 2018. Another study from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System stated that during this period, the state reported that only 87% of adults claim to always wear a seat belt while in a vehicle.
The West Virginia Seat Belt Law, a primary law under WV Code Section 17C-15-49, requires all drivers and passengers, regardless of age or seating position, to wear a properly fastened seat belt while a vehicle is on any public roadway. This is also in line with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Click It or Ticket campaign, a seat belt enforcement program implemented by the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
By requiring all vehicle occupants to wear a seat belt, individuals are protected from the harmful effects of a collision, such as being tossed from the vehicle or colliding with the vehicle's interior.
Infractions of this law can result in fines of up to $25 for first-time offenders and $50 for repeat offenders, as well as possible court appearances. Additionally, you can receive points on your driver's license for failure to wear a seat belt, which can result in higher insurance premiums and a potential license suspension.
West Virginia Child Passenger Safety Devices Law
The Child Passenger Safety Devices Law requires all children under eight to be securely fastened in a child safety seat or booster seat suitable for their age, weight, and height. Children between eight and 18 must wear a seat belt, regardless of their seating position.
The child's age, weight, and height determine whether particular standards for child safety seats apply. For instance, children between the ages of two and four must be buckled into a forward-facing child safety seat, while babies and toddlers under two or those who weigh less than 20 pounds must be buckled into a rear-facing child safety seat.
A first-time violation of this provision can result in a fine of $20, while subsequent offenses can result in a $50 penalty.
West Virginia Hit & Run Law
Under the West Virginia Hit & Run Law, any driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage is required to stop their vehicle immediately at the scene of the accident or as close as possible to the scene without obstructing traffic. The involved individuals must also provide their name, address, insurance information, vehicle registration information, and driver's license information to the other driver, as well as to any law enforcement officer who arrives at the scene.
The fines for hit-and-run offenses in West Virginia vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, as well as the applicable statute.
For accidents involving damage to a vehicle, the fine for leaving the scene of an accident ranges from $100 to $500, with a possible jail sentence of up to six months. In addition to the criminal penalties, the driver may be liable for any damages caused by the accident, such as repairs to the other In addition to facing criminal charges, the driver may also have to pay for any damages caused by the accident, like fixing the other driver's vehicle.
The penalties for accidents involving death or personal injuries are much more severe. Under WV Code Section 17C-4-1 or Erin’s Law, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death or personal injury is a felony offense, punishable by a penalty equal to or less than $5,000 and up to ten years in prison. Additionally, the driver's license may be suspended or revoked, and the driver may be required to complete community service or other forms of restitution.
It is important to note that in addition to criminal penalties, a hit-and-run driver may also face civil liability for damages caused by the accident. If you are a hit-and-run victim, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, among other damages.
West Virginia Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements
West Virginia drivers are required to have liability insurance to operate a motor vehicle on public roads, with the minimum auto insurance requirements established by state law in WV Section 17D-4-2.
Drivers must have liability insurance with mandatory limits that cover at least:
$25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in any one crash;
$50,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more people in any one accident; and
$25,000 for destruction of property.
This type of insurance is often referred to as 25/50/25 coverage, where liability insurance is designed to protect drivers financially if they are at fault in an accident that results in bodily injury or property damage to others.
It is important to note that these are the minimum insurance requirements. Drivers may purchase additional coverage for added protection in the event of an accident, like uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
Drivers who fail to maintain the minimum auto insurance required by law can face penalties, including fines, suspension of their driver's license, and even the impoundment of their vehicle.
Registered vehicle owners are also responsible for keeping proof of insurance inside their vehicles at all times. In addition, they are mandated to keep their addresses with the DMV up-to-date to receive notifications. The DMV has created the West Virginia Online Verification platform for real-time online motor vehicle insurance verification, allowing the agency to verify insurance instantly. This can be helpful when registering a car, dealing with traffic tickets, or getting into an accident.
West Virginia Is a Fault State for Insurance Claims
West Virginia handles auto insurance claims based on who is at fault. This means that any damages or injuries caused by an accident must be paid for by the driver who was found to be at fault.
To cover any damages or injuries they may cause in an accident, drivers are required to have liability insurance. Whenever an accident happens, the insurance companies involved look into the incident to see who is responsible. Once liability is proven, the losses and injuries caused by the accident are normally covered by the at-fault driver's insurance carrier.
West Virginia Is a Modified Comparative State for Car Accident Lawsuits
West Virginia is a modified comparative fault state. This means that if both drivers are found to be partly to blame for an accident, the damages are allocated based on how much each driver was to blame.
For example, if a plaintiff is found to be 30% at fault for an accident that caused $100,000 in damages, the plaintiff's damages award would be reduced by 30%, or $30,000. They would therefore be qualified to receive $70,000 in damages.
However, a motorist may not be able to sue another driver for damages if they are determined to be more than 50% at fault for an accident due to the 51% bar.
West Virginia Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents
The statute of limitations for car accidents in West Virginia is generally two years from the date of the accident. This means the injured victims must file a lawsuit within two years, or they may be barred from bringing a claim.
However, there are some exemptions to the two-year statute of limitations for car accidents in West Virginia. These include:
minors, where the statute of limitations is paused until the minor reaches the age of 18;
incapacitated individuals, where the statute of limitations is tolled until they regain capacity; and
out-of-state defendants, meaning if the defendant is not a resident of West Virginia, the statute of limitations may be extended to provide the plaintiff additional time to file a claim.
It's important to note that these exemptions are limited. Individuals who believe they may have a claim for injuries sustained in a car accident should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure they do not miss the two-year deadline for filing a lawsuit.
Average Settlement for West Virginia Car Accident Lawsuits
The compensation awarded for car accident lawsuits in West Virginia varies widely depending on the specific circumstances of each case. Settlement amounts of car accident cases in the state range from $3,000 to $75,000.
One factor is how bad the injuries were from the accident. This means that the more serious the injuries, the more money will be given as compensation. This is because more serious injuries often need a lot of medical care and can leave people disabled for a long time or for good. Another factor is the amount of insurance coverage available.
Another factor determining settlement amounts is West Virginia’s cap of $500,000 on non-economic damages in car accident cases. This refers to damages unrelated to monetary losses, like pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life.
To determine the potential value of a car accident claim, you should seek guidance from an experienced personal injury attorney.
Legal Resources for West Virginia Car Accident Victims
Legal Aid of West Virginia
Legal Aid of West Virginia is a non-profit organization that provides free legal assistance to car accident victims who come from low-income families in West Virginia. It offers representation in court, advice and counseling, and community education programs. Injured victims and their families may reach their helpline via (866) 255 4370.
West Virginia Lawyer Referral Service
The West Virginia Lawyer Referral Service is a West Virginia State Bar program that provides referrals to car accident victims seeking legal representation but do not know where to turn. It helps individuals find attorneys who are experienced in their specific legal needs and are in good standing with the West Virginia State Bar. You may contact (304) 553 7220 for further details.
West Virginia Driver’s Manual
The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles has developed a comprehensive driver's licensing handbook, available online, that helps individuals prepare for their driver's license exams. It covers a wide range of topics related to safe driving, including traffic laws, road signs and signals, driving techniques, and rules of the road. It also includes information about obtaining a driver's license, renewing a license, and other important DMV processes. The DMV can be reached at 1-866-262-5348 or dmv.wv.gov.
West Virginia Insurance Consumer Services
The West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner has created an online resource providing car insurance-related information, as well as resources on health, homeowner’s, and life insurance plans. It also helps people file complaints, settle disagreements with insurance companies, and understand the terms of their insurance policies. It delivers educational resources and tools to help consumers make informed decisions about their insurance coverage. You may email them, call (304) 558-3386 or the toll-free 1-888-TRY WVIC (888-879-9842).
West Virginia 511 Traffic Advisory
WV 511 is a travel information service the West Virginia Department of Transportation provides to help drivers stay safe and informed while driving. It gives the most up-to-date information about traffic accidents, road construction, and weather alerts for all of West Virginia's major highways and roads. WV 511 features a real-time map that displays traffic cameras, road closures, and other information relevant to motorists. More details can be obtained by calling 1-855-699-8511.
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