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A police sergeant checks a child safety seat for a three-year old. (File Photo)

RICHMOND – Virginia motorists should be mindful of three new highway safety laws that went into effect Monday.

One of them requires youngsters to remain rear-facing in child safety seats until age two or until they reach the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer.

The commonwealth’s General Assembly also passed a bill prohibiting drivers from holding a handheld personal communication device while passing through a highway work zone. Violation of the law is punishable by a fine of $250.

House Bill 1911 increases the penalty for failure to move over on multi-lane highways when approaching specified stationary vehicles, including emergency responders. It is now considered a Class 1 misdemeanor. A companion Senate Joint Resolution established June as Move Over Awareness Month in honor of Lt. Bradford Turner Clark, a Hanover County Fire-EMS responder who was killed in October 2018 when a tractor-trailer struck a fire truck working a crash along I-295.

Advocates for highway safety in Virginia emphasized the life-saving intent of these new measures. It is important for parents to select the right child safety seat and use it properly, emphasized Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, because car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages one-to-13.

“The forces during a crash can be deadly,” she said. “A rear-facing car seat is designed to move with the child in the event of a crash, helping to protect his or her head, neck and spinal cord.”

Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative, added, “Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend all children ride rear-facing as long as possible. You may think your child is ready to face forward, but for optimal protection, it’s important to keep your child rear-facing until he or she is at the highest weight or height specified in the manufacturer’s instructions.”

The AAP and NHTSA also recommend the following when installing a child safety seat:

  • · Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
  • · Position the harness straps on the shoulders and chest and flat against the child’s body. Inability to pinch a slack loop in the strap is good test for correct snugness.
  • · Position the chest clip at armpit level.
  • · Make sure the safety seat does not move forward or side-to-side more than one inch.

Virginia’s child passenger safety laws require all children under age eight to be properly secured in a child safety or booster seat, regardless of weight or height.

In reference to the move-over-law penalty adjustments, Valentine said, “Close calls, injury and death are a daily risk to every highway maintenance employee. In work zones alone last year, there were 2,523 crashes, 1,256 injuries – some of them life changing – and nine fatalities.  It is imperative that we protect those whose ‘office’ is the highway.”

“Distracted driving claims thousands of lives each year,” Holcomb observed. “In a work zone or elsewhere, drivers need to put their phones and any other distractions away and focus on the road ahead.” 

Other bills that went into effect Monday include:

  • · House Bill 2805 – Prohibits parking any vehicle in striped accessible aisles adjacent to a parking space reserved for persons with disabilities.
  • · House Bill 1867/Senate Bill 1787 – Increases from $500 to $600 the fee for noncompliance with Virginia’s motor vehicle insurance laws; expands eligibility for individuals to enter into payment plans for noncompliance fees; and allows customers to surrender license plates to DMV online or by telephone without partial refund of registration fees.
  • · House Bill 1927 – Allows DMV to designate on an identification card if the applicant is blind or vision impaired.
  • · Senate Bill 1487 – Allows DMV to designate on a driver’s license or identification card a traumatic brain injury, provided the applicant presents a signed statement by a licensed neurologist confirming the applicant’s condition.

For more information about any of these legislative measures, visit dmvNOW.com.