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Virginia Highway Safety Office News Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Media Contact: Melanie Stokes
Department of Motor Vehicles
(804) 367-6623

Young Drivers Encouraged to Slow Down, Buckle Up
National Teen Driver Safety Week is Oct. 19-25

RICHMOND - The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle's Virginia Highway Safety Office (VAHSO) is joining teens, parents, schools and youth organizations across the United States to mark National Teen Driver Safety Week, October 19 through 25. Last year in Virginia, 60 teen drivers ages 15 to 19 were killed and 5,475 were injured in traffic-related crashes. Speed, lack of seat belt use, inexperience and alcohol use were contributing factors in these crashes.

The theme for this year's second National Teen Driver Safety Week is "Passengers." According to the Young Driver Research Initiative, the risk of a fatal crash for a teen driver increases exponentially with each teen passenger.

Virginia law requires certain passenger restrictions for teen drivers. If drivers are under age 18, they may carry only one passenger under age 18 during the first year that they hold a driver's license. After holding a license for one year, teen drivers may carry only three passengers under age 18 until the driver turns 18. Learner's permit holders may not carry more than one passenger under age 18. These restrictions do not apply to family members.

"Virginia's passenger restrictions are not meant to penalize teen drivers, but to help them stay safe while they gain driving experience," said John Saunders, Director of the VAHSO. "New drivers lack the experience needed on the road to react to high-risk conditions and situations. Passengers, and other distractions, multiply the inexperience factor and increase the risk for teen crashes."

Virginia also has laws restricting cell phone use and requiring curfews for teen drivers.

Curfew laws prohibit drivers under age 18 from driving from midnight to 4 a.m. unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. Exceptions to the curfew law include emergencies, and traveling for work or school-sponsored events. Violations of either the curfew or passenger restrictions can result in driver's license suspension.

Virginia's cellular telephone law restricts a driver under age 18 from using cell phones or any other wireless telecommunications device, even if it's hand-held. Exceptions include driver emergencies or when the vehicle is parked.

"Those first six months of independent driving are the most dangerous for drivers," Saunders said. "Gradually introducing driving privileges during the first few years of driving gives teens time to gain experience under safer conditions."

Here are some important tips for teens to stay safe during National Teen Driver Safety Week and throughout the year:

  • Buckle up; there were 31 unbelted teen driver deaths and 705 unbelted teen drivers injured in crashes last year in Virginia.
  • Don't drive drowsy. Teens need more sleep than adults and most don't get it.
  • Drive sober and always ride with sober drivers. Last year, 12 teen drivers died and 427 were injured as a result of alcohol-related crashes in Virginia.
  • Focus on your driving. Nearly 5,000 teen drivers were distracted when involved in crashes last year in Virginia.
  • Obey Virginia's teen passenger restrictions -- don't load up your car with too many friends.

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