Virginia Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Even though Virginia suffers around 750 traffic deaths a year, it still ranks as one of the safer places in the United States to drive because Virginia’s relatively high population renders its per-capita risk of death rather low compared to other states. The basics of Virginia’s legal system relating to road accidents is described below.

Statute of Limitations: Virginia allows two years from the date of an accident to file a personal injury lawsuit, and five years to file a property damage lawsuit. The right to file a wrongful death lawsuit expires two years from the date of the victim’s death.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: Virginia is a “pure contributory negligence” state – when the victim was also at fault, the court will subtract a percentage from the victim’s damages that is identical to the victim’s percentage of fault as determined by the court. A victim can recover at least some damages even if the accident was mostly his fault.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Virginia is an at-fault auto insurance state – an injured victim can claim directly against the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy, or file a lawsuit in state court.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: No liability insurance is required in Virginia as long as the driver pays a $500 annual uninsured motor vehicle fee to the Virginia DMV. If you choose to opt out of this system, you must purchase liability insurance with minimum coverage limits of $25,000 per injured victim, $50,000 per injury accident and $20,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Virginia motorists must purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance with coverage limits of $25,000 per injured victim and $50,000 per injury accident, with a $200 deductible.

Types of Damages Available: Full compensatory damage are available. Punitive damages are available in cases of outrageous defendant conduct; however, additional damages are capped by statute at $350,000.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: Although no-fault product liability is available, modification of the vehicle is a defense available to the defendant if it resulted in the dangerous condition that caused the injury.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): Damages in lawsuits against the state government or one of its subdivisions are subject to a $1 million statutory cap or the maximum amount of insurance coverage, whichever is greater.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All Virginia riders must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants under 18 must buckle up while sitting in a front seat. Although the same rule applies to occupants 18 or older, for adults it is a secondary offense – the officer cannot ticket you unless he had another reason to pull you over (speeding, for example). The driver is ticketed for under-18 occupants who don’t buckle up. The maximum fine for a first offense is $25.

Dram Shop Law: Unlike most other states, in Virginia neither alcohol vendors nor social hosts can be held liable to third parties who are injured by someone to whom they served alcohol.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): Conviction of a first-offense DUI results in at least five days in jail and a $250 fine. A one-year driver’s license suspension also applies.

Penalty for Refusing a Sobriety Test: A DUI suspect who refuses a blood, breath or urine test will be subject to a one-year driver’s license suspension, even if he is never convicted of DUI.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Texting while driving is banned in Virginia for all drivers. On-duty school bus drivers may not use cell phones (even hands-free models). Although drivers under 18 may not use cell phones while driving, the offense is secondary – the officer cannot ticket you for it unless he pulls you over for some other reason.