Legal Review: Everything You Need to Know About the New Virginia DMV Laws

In early July of this year, several new laws went into effect that may impact Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) customers.

Many of the bills were written and passed in February and March, but they did not become law until July 1. The new legislation deals with specific subsets of the DMV’s customer base, and they will require individual action on the part of the customer if any of the new laws apply to them.

Virginia’s DMV is the government agency that oversees registration and titling for every automobile and other motor vehicle purchased in the state. Today, the DMV manages close to 6 million licensed drivers across the commonwealth. They are the point of contact for anyone with questions or concerns about the new laws.

The new laws have been passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam. While each is different, the recent regulations directly alter the current status quo for a few separate categories of Virginia drivers. The laws include changes to users’ vehicle registration, issuance fees and obtaining specialized license plates.

Vehicle Registration and Issuance Fees

The first of the new laws concerns the expansion of voluntary disability indicators on vehicle registrations. Now, owners who regularly have a person with a communication impairment in their car are authorized to specify this information on their vehicle’s registration. The text mentions autism explicitly by name as a valid communication impairment, but the law will also pertain to those with speech or hearing disorders.

Applying for the new indicator is optional, but it will forewarn officers when approaching a parked vehicle with someone vocally impaired inside. The “Expansion of Voluntary Disability Indicator on Vehicle Registrations” is House Bill 1960, Senate Bill 1470, and Del. Robert Bell and Sen. George Barker introduced the latest legislation.

In addition to vehicle registration, some of the new laws switch focus to what is known as issuance fees. Two new Virginia laws eliminate fees for the issuance of specialized license plates to current and former members of the state’s National Guard. As of now, active and retired members must pay for the plates that display their services. Del. Wendell Walker and Del. Scott Wyatt sponsored House Bills 1796 and 2261, respectively.

Specialized License Plates

The next law lets those who earned special awards or medals in the military purchase specialized plates to commemorate those honors. For those who went beyond the normal call to duty and earned recognition for their heroic deeds, they can visit the DMV to get a license plate celebrating their award. However, they must first show valid proof of their service and the honor they received.

Awards that could appear on license plates include The Medal of Honor, The Bronze Star and The Purple Heart. Furthermore, House Bill 2669 creates a uniform fee structure for the military award plates. It also says that non-remarried spouses of former military service members can obtain a specialized plate if they prove their spouse collected the award in question.

The final bill signed into law also deals with specialized plates. Senate Bill 1229 adjusts the current Ducks Unlimited license plate to a revenue-sharing venture. Sponsored by Sen. Richard Stuart, the Ducks Unlimited annual license fee increased to 25 dollars, and 15 of the 25 dollars will be shifted to Ducks Unlimited, Inc. who will donate the funds to wetland and waterfowl habitat conservation projects scattered across the state.

Other States with Similar Laws

Although these laws are brand new to the commonwealth, similar laws exist in several other states. For example, while not directly through Ducks Unlimited, Delaware sells an American horseshoe crab license plate that donates a portion of its earnings to wildlife foundations in the state, including the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays.

Like Virginia’s newly available military award plates, Nebraska created its version in January. Service members must register with the Nebraska Veterans’ Registry, but they too can purchase a plate that represents their completion of a campaign in Iraq.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill much like Virginia’s House Bills 1796 and 2261. Beginning in 2022, surviving widows of fallen armed forces spouses in the state no longer need to pay issuance fees for Gold Star license plates. After providing proof of their partner’s award, widows and parents of the deceased can obtain the plate without the extra expense.

Virginia’s Other New Laws

Each of the new laws surrounding the DMV was not the only legislation going into effect around that time. On July 1, Northam signed several bills that reshaped many legal ramifications in the commonwealth.

Virginia became the first southern state to abolish the death penalty. At the same time, it became the first southern state to legalize marijuana, as well. On the education front, public schools must always offer some form of in-person education.

“Laws in Virginia are changing,” said John Cooper of Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers. “It is important to remember and be aware of the state’s new mandates whenever they arise, as they can have an impact on your daily life.”

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