Traffic violations can have serious consequences, such as fines, restricted or suspended licenses, or even jail time.
However, these penalties can change when a juvenile (a person under age 18) violates traffic laws. Even when convicted of similar violations the penalties for a juvenile may be harsher or more lenient as those for an adult.
Virginia Code § 46.2-334.01 outlines the restrictions for juvenile driving charges in the Commonwealth. In this article, we’ll go over these specific restrictions and how they differ for juvenile offenders.
Reckless Driving for Juveniles
The Virginia Code defines reckless driving as:
- Driving in a way that endangers others (Virginia Code § 46.2-852).
- Failing to maintain control of a vehicle, including failure to properly maintain safety equipment such as brakes (VA Code § 46.2-853).
- Driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit, OR faster than 80 mph total (Virginia Code § 46.2-862).
In Virginia, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, not a simple traffic infraction. That means that it’s a criminal charge and it requires a court appearance by the offender. Most individuals charged with reckless driving will have their case heard on the traffic docket of the General District Court where the citation was received.
If you’re convicted of reckless driving, you could pay up to $2,500 in fines and go to jail from up to 12 months. You’ll also get six demerit points on your driving record and the judge will most likely suspend your license.
Reckless Driving Penalties for Juveniles
However, when an individual under 18 is charged with reckless driving, the process is somewhat different.
First, the case will be heard in a Juvenile and Domestic Relations (J&DR) court, where all cases involving minors are heard, instead of the General District Court. Second, minor offenders facing reckless driving charges will not be “found guilty” but instead may be “adjudicated delinquent.”
These two terms mean basically the same thing, but adjudicated delinquents can avoid many of the direct and collateral consequences of a normal criminal conviction.
For example, while a reckless driving charge will stay on a juvenile’s driving record just as it would for an adult, a juvenile’s criminal record may be sealed. This means that it won’t be publicly available information.
While a reckless driving charge in J&DR court is still serious, the judges there are able an offender’s relative age into account and have greater flexibility in determining the appropriate punishment. The judge’s goal is usually to punish and restrict the driver appropriately while still emphasizing rehabilitation.
In other words, a young offender is more likely to get a second chance.
When a juvenile is charged with reckless driving, a judge may sentence them to punishments such as:
- Community service
- Treatment programs
A minor may also face some of the penalties an adult would, such as receiving points on their license. No matter what the sentence ends up being, a juvenile charged with reckless driving will usually have to take an approved driver improvement course at their own expense.
In serious cases, the judge will also suspend their driver’s license, impose fines, or sentence them to time in jail. In especially egregious cases, the court may even decide to try them as an adult.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) While Under 21
Driving under the influence (DUI) means operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In most cases, the seriousness of the DUI charge will depend on how much alcohol or drugs the offender has in their system, as well as how much these substances impaired their ability to drive.
In Virginia, the normal legal limit for how much alcohol you can have in your blood while driving is a 0.08 percent BAC.
If an officer arrests you for DUI, and you blow higher than this number on a breathalyzer test, you’ll be arrested for DUI.
Similarly, if you have enough alcohol in your system to significantly impair your driving the officer may also charge you with DUI. This is because the Virginia legal code puts more weight on a person’s inability to drive than an arbitrary amount of alcohol in their system.
Think of the 0.08 number as more like the cutoff at which point the court assumes you were driving while impaired.
DUI Penalties for Adults
In Virginia, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol normally results in a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction. There are several penalties you can expect for a DUI conviction in Virginia, including:
- A mandatory fine of at least $250.
- Participation in drug and alcohol education and treatment programs (“Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Programs”)
- The loss of your driving privileges for one year.
- The installation of an ignition interlock device in your car.
- Possible jail time.
These penalties can also change significantly based on a variety of factors, such as the judge’s discretion, the presence of prior DUI convictions, and excessive BAC levels.
For example, repeat DUI offenders face increased prison sentences, higher fines, and more stringent requirements for regaining their license.
Similarly, having a BAC of higher than 0.15 will result in a short mandatory prison sentence of either 5 (first offense) or 20 (second offense) days. If your BAC was above 0.20, you’ll instead have to spend 10 (first offense) or 40 (second offense) days in prison.
DUI Penalties for Juveniles
Virginia uses a zero-tolerance law to punish individuals under the age of 21 who choose to drink and drive. Under this law, anyone under the age of 21 who drives with a BAC of between 0.02 and 0.08 will face several punishments, including:
- The loss of their driving privileges for one year.
- A minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service.
- 6 demerit points on their license.
If, however, they blow higher than a 0.08 on their breathalyzer test, they will most likely face the same penalties as an adult, as described above.
Additional DUI Penalties to Consider
There are several other crimes that juveniles need to take into account when it comes to DUI:
- Because of Virginia’s implied consent law, it is illegal to refuse a breathalyzer test after being arrested.
- If you’re an adult caught driving while under the influence while a minor is in your car, the penalties for the DUI charge are much greater.
- Juveniles pulled over with a BAC of at or above either 0.15 or 0.20 may face the same mandatory jail sentences that adults face.
- If an individual under the age of 21 is charged with a DUI, they’re not only driving under the influence, but also drinking while underage. This is also a Class 1 misdemeanor with significant consequences.
Hit and Run
No matter your age, hit and run is an incredibly serious offense in Virginia.
Under the Virginia Code, “hit and run” is actually referred to as “leaving the scene of an accident,” and can apply to a number of scenarios you might not expect.
Essentially, any time you hit something with your car, you need to take the proper steps to remedy the situation. This is true for most accidents from bumping into a mailbox all the way up to crashes on a highway.
Additionally, it’s important to note that these restrictions also apply to passengers, though they normally face lower punishments.
In most cases, you have three responsibilities after an accident:
- Stop and inform the police of the incident.
- Provide reasonable medical attention to any injured parties.
- Make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner of the property.
In regards to the final point, if you bump into someone else in traffic all you have to do is stop and chat with them. If, however, you hit someone’s property while they’re not around (such as a parked car or a mailbox) you need to make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner.
If you don’t, you may end up with a charge for leaving the scene of an accident.
Penalties for Hit and Run for Juveniles in Virginia
The penalties for hit and run can vary based on the circumstances of the accident.
While we provide a complete list in our Quick Guide to Virginia’s Hit and Run Laws, the basic penalties depend most on whether or not another person was involved, as well as the amount of damage caused by the accident.
For example, consider the following three scenarios:
- If you were driving a vehicle during an accident that injured someone, then fled the scene, your hit and run charge would be a Class 5 felony.
- If you were driving a vehicle and hit a parked car, resulting in more than $250 in damages, and then leave the scene of the accident, you’ll instead be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- If you’re a passenger in a car that hits a mailbox then flees the scene, you’ll instead face Class 4 misdemeanor charges.
As stated above, a juvenile facing criminal charges will face delinquency proceedings in J&DR court. In the case of juvenile hit and run, minor charges might result in fines or community service. However, depending on the circumstances of the accident the judge may decide to apply the normal sentencing guidelines.
Regardless of the severity of the accident, if a juvenile is charged with leaving the scene of an accident, they’ll want to speak with an attorney immediately.
Even hitting a parked car is a serious criminal charge that will stay on your record forever. If the accident injured another person, you could face massive fines and jail time.
Texting and Driving
Switching over from traffic crimes to moving violations (“traffic infractions”), new technology has led to a new Virginia Code section concerning cell phone use.
Virginia Code § 46.2-1078.1 specifically forbids texting and driving for all drivers, regardless of age. This code also states that drivers should also avoid reading any texts or emails while they’re driving.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, in Virginia you may use your phone to call someone even while you’re driving. Similarly, you may also use your phone for any purpose in any of the following scenarios:
- While lawfully stopped or parked (including at a red light).
- To report an emergency.
- While operating an emergency vehicle.
- If you’re using it at a GPS device.
If an officer writes you a ticket for texting while driving, you’ll have to pay a fine of $125 for a first offense and $250 for any subsequent offense.
Juvenile Texting and Driving
However, the texting and driving statute described above only applies to individuals over the age of 18.
In Virginia, no one under the age of 18 can use their phone while driving, even to make a non-emergency phone call or if the phone is in hands-free mode.
The only real exceptions are for when the juvenile needs to report an emergency or when the car is fully parked (i.e. juveniles can’t legally text at red lights).
The rules are more restrictive for juveniles, but the fines are the same – $125 for the first offense and $250 for second and subsequent offenses.
When you get a speeding ticket, you’ll generally have pay a fine at your local courthouse. Some people choose to pay the fine, take the DMV demerit points on their license, and move on. Others choose to fight the ticket in court, to varying levels of success.
While simply paying the fine is often the recommended strategy, there are also some situations when fighting the ticket in court can be beneficial.
For example, if the speeding ticket would put you over the DMV demerit cutoff level for suspending your license, you may want to consider fighting the ticket in court.
Similarly, if the ticket would drastically raise your insurance premiums, that might also be a reason to fight the ticket.
Juvenile Speeding Tickets
Speeding is a traffic infraction, not a traffic crime (like reckless driving or a DUI), so you don’t have to go appear in court, even if you’re under 18.
However, it’s important to understand that judges are often more lenient with minors when it comes to speeding. For this reason, it’s probably worthwhile for a juvenile to go to court and try to get the ticket dismissed if possible.
Especially if it’s their first offense, a judge may simply require the driver to attend a driver improvement clinic or other similar class.
Driving Restrictions for Juveniles
Finally, there are also a few specific restrictions that individuals under the age of 18 should be aware of in Virginia.
While we’ll list some common state-wide examples below, you should make sure that there aren’t any local ordinances in your specific county or city which follow different rules (such as an earlier curfew).
Drivers under the age of 18 are generally restricted from driving from midnight until 4:00 am. However, this rule doesn’t apply if you are:
- Driving to or from work.
- Going to, or coming from, an activity that is supervised by an adult and is sponsored by a church, school, or civic organization.
- Responding to an emergency.
If you’re being accompanied by a spouse (who is licensed and over 18) or a parent, then it’s also fine for you to drive after midnight.
Drivers under the age of 18 can only have one passenger in their car under the age of 21 unless a parent or supervising adult is accompanying them in the front seat.
Similarly, this restriction is lifted if the driver has held their license for one year and:
- They are driving to or from school or a school activity.
- A licensed driver over 21 is in the passenger seat.
- There is an emergency which necessitates the situation.
These restrictions don’t apply to family members such as siblings.
The Virginia Code assigns different penalties to juveniles who commit certain traffic crimes such as reckless driving or DUI. Often, judges are more lenient when punishing these young drivers, and focus more on rehabilitation than punishment.
However, even in this scenario traffic crimes are serious offenses that will stay on your record forever. While you can deal with certain traffic infractions such as speeding tickets by simply paying a fine, traffic crimes are a much serious matter that you’ll want to hire an attorney for.