Everyone is looking forward to the winter holidays, whether they celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, New Years, other religious or national holidays, or just the winter break with family and friends. Many people travel by car to get to their celebrations, and the preparations for exchange of gifts and entertaining often involve lots of shopping trips by car. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as elsewhere, motorists can expect heavy congestion during this period of holiday travel. The Commonwealth of Virginia offers a number of helpful travel resources and information.
Some Safe Holiday Driving Tips
Motorists can reduce the risk of a crash or serious injury by following these safe driving tips:
- Buckle up– Seatbelts saves lives, and it’s the law. This year, Virginia has a new expanded law for minors wearing seatbelts that lets police ticket drivers for operating vehicles in which even 16- and 17-year-old children are riding in the back seat without seatbelts. (Virginia law requires all children under age 18 to wear seatbelts, and all children under age 8 to be in an approved child safety seat).
- Obey speed limits – The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has recently raised the speed limits on many of Virginia’s highways and interstates from 65 to 70 mph, so be alert for current speed limits.
- Avoid distractions – Try to avoid cell phone use. Increasingly, cell phone use is being associated with a large number of accidents. Some studies have even concluded that cell phone use impairs a driver’s concentration more than being intoxicated ! As a result, experts estimate that as many as 28% of car accidents in 2009 were caused by cellphone usage. Also, don’t text and drive. In Virginia as well as many other states, it is against the law to text while driving.
- Drive drug- and alcohol-free. Driving a motor vehicle is like operating a several thousand pound missile down the road. You need all your faculties to do so safely.
- Share the road – Further enhancing safety regulations for police and others, Virginia’s revised “SLOW DOWN MOVE ON LAW” is intended to protect police and emergency workers engaged in enforcement or rescue work on the side of a highway using blinking, flashing or alternating red or blue lights. Under Virginia as amended, a driver is required to either change lanes to move away from the scene of the action, or, if that’s not possible, slow down while passing. Virginia’s “Move Over law” expanded the lane changing requirements to include tow trucks and highway service vehicles using amber lights. Now motorists must move to the next lane, when possible, when approaching and passing vehicles with flashing blue, red or amber lights stopped on the side of the road. Drivers should bear in mind that not all police and emergency vehicles will be marked as such; they could be unmarked vehicles or privately-owned vehicles operated by police and firefighters. Therefore, drivers should continue to proceed with caution as if the vehicle was owned and operated by police, firefighters, or other civil defense agents. This also avoids the danger of a motorist on the side of the road suddenly opening a door into the adjacent travel lane.
- Move your vehicle to a position of safety after an accident. If you’re in a fender bender with no injuries and you can move your vehicle from the travel lanes, you should do so. It’s allowed by the law. Virginia’s “Move It” law states, “If the driver is capable of safely doing so and the vehicle is movable, (you) may move the vehicle from the roadway to prevent obstructing the regular flow of traffic.” The law adds that moving your vehicle does not relieve law-enforcement officers of their duty to file a report of the accident. When you leave your vehicle on the road after a crash, you add to traffic back-ups, which may cause other more serious crashes in terms of property damage and personal injury.
Pay attention to Traffic Alerts and Work Zones:
- Drive at the posted speed limit. The fine for speeding in a work zone can be $500.
- Proceed with extreme caution. Expect anything in construction sites.
- Be aware – especially of construction vehicles moving in and out of work zones.
- Obey signs, channelizing devices and pavement markings. They will guide you through the work zone.
- Don’t change lanes or pass. The time saved is not worth the risk.
- Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and others around you. Unexpected stops and slowdowns frequently occur in work zones.
- Watch for flaggers. Their direction will get you safely through the work zones.
- Look for changes. A work zone might have changed since your last trip.
Virginia Highway Travel Resources Virginia has a traveler’s assistance website www.511Virginia.org, that provides real-time travel information, such as delays due to accidents, weather or congestion. You can plan the route for your trip, view real-time traffic cameras, and get information about planned construction that could delay your travels. If you are already on the road, call 511 for the latest travel information. To report a road hazard or to get answers to your transportation questions, you may also now call VDOT’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623) around the clock.
Be safe & enjoy the holiday season accident-free!
 For weather-related road condition alerts, see http://511virginia.org/RoadConditions.aspx?j=All&r=6. For winter weather preparedness tips, see http://www.vaemergency.com/.
 See explanation at http://www.vahealth.org/Injury/safetyseat/laws.htm. For the actual statute, see Va Code §46.2-1095 at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-1095.
 See recent blog article “Bad Calls: Mixing Driving With the Use of Cell Phones” at https://www.allenandallen.com/blog/driving-and-cell-phones.html, and studies cited therein.
 Based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Tech April 2006 study, “The Impact of Driver Inattention On Near-Crash/Crash Risk: An Analysis Using the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study Data”, at http://www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/NRD/Multimedia/PDFs/Crash%20Avoidance/Driver%20Distraction/810594.pdf, and analysis done by the National Safety Council as reported at http://www.nsc.org/news_resources/Resources/Documents/Cell%20Phone%20Fact%20Sheet%2012-09PCIrevisions.pdf .
 “Nineteen states and the District have banned it, but in four of those states, Virginia, New York, Washington and Louisiana, the laws require that an officer have some other primary reason for stopping a vehicle.” See Washington Post article, “28 percent of accidents involve talking, texting on cellphones”, 1/13/10, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/12/AR2010011202218.html. See also Va. Code § 46.2-1078.1, described in blog article Texting and Driving – What the Law in Virginia Actually Says.
 See Va. Code § 46.2-888, at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/cod/46.2-888.HTM.