I wanted to write a blog about the myths and facts about driving in Charlottesville and the United States as an au pair. First, I want to point out that the regulations regarding driving are STATE dependent. Different States within the US have different laws regarding licensure and driving. As an au pair, you should become familiar with your state’s laws. For Virginia residing au pairs click here. Second, I want to express that driving the host family vehicle is a big responsibility whether on or off duty. As a former LCC, the most common reason for transition/rematch is due to the Au Pair’s driving (ability and/or loss of license due to traffic violation/s). Be Responsible. I feel that it is the host parents responsibility to assess their au pair’s driving on their arrival in order to avoid difficult situations. As a host parent, I recommend setting limits initially on use of the family vehicle until the Au Pair and Host Family feel confidant. Possible challenges that au pairs might face initially when driving in the US: driving in an unknown area, driving a bigger car, unfamiliarity with traffic laws and road rules, unfamiliarity with the vehicle, distractions while driving.
FACT: An Au Pair has 6 months from their VISA date to obtain a valid state license in VIRGINIA. Click here for information about obtaining a license in Virginia.
MYTH: An Au Pair can drive after 6 months as long as they have their country’s license or IDL.
- FALSE. In the state of Virginia, an Au Pair must obtain a driver’s license within 6 months of their arrival to the US. This is true for most states in the US. It’s not a problem until the Au Pair is found to be driving without a valid license by officials.
FACT: Vehicle insurance companies require an au pair to have a valid license in order to maintain auto insurance coverage. Again, this is not a problem until damage occurs and au pair is found to be driving without a valid license (most likely result in $$$$).
MYTH: An Au Pair does not need to renew their state driving license for their extension term.
- FALSE. An Au Pair must renew their state driving license for their extension term. Do not let your state driving license expire. Before entering your extension period, I would advise an Au Pair to renew their license using extension/updated DS-2019 form and all other necessary forms. If you are moving to another State, renew your license as soon as possible to avoid difficult situations.
FACT: German, French, and South Korean Au Pairs are not required to take the knowledge or driving tests in order to obtain a Virginia driver’s license. All other Au Pairs must pass both knowledge and driving tests to obtain a Virginia state license.
MYTH: It will not happen to me.
- FALSE. It can happen to you. Police in the United States routinely patrol, perform traffic stops, and scan drivers for speeding or other driving violations.
FACT: Speeding in an excess of 20 miles per hour over the posted speed limit or greater than 80 miles per hour is a misdemeanor in Virginia. Not only will you receive a $$$ fine, but you will be required to appear in court before a judge. If charged with reckless driving, you could be required to attend a driving improvement course and/or have you license suspended for up to 6 months (in addition to ticket and court costs). YIKES.
MYTH: Parking at the 10 hour parking sign in the metered lot off the downtown mall is free.
- False. You must put money in the meter, unless your are parking there after 6pm. The 10 hour limit just implies that you can put money in the meter up to 10 hours of parking time at those designated spaces. You can park for free on the STREETS when you park at the 2 hour parking sign. Do not try to park there for more than 2 hours, you will get ticketed. The parking lots on the downtown mall are regularly patrolled by tow trucks. You will not get a ticket. You will get towed if you are in violation. A tow costs anywhere between $150-200. Regardless of whether an au pair is on or off duty while driving, he or she is responsible for any parking violation. I would also not park at a meter that is not working. Yes, this has happened to me and cost me $35…and I was only parked for 10 minutes or less.
MYTH: Celebrities do not get towed.
- False. Dave Matthews was towed from the downtown mall parking lot.
FACT: Texting or reading text messages while driving in Virginia is illegal. Talking on the cell phone is not illegal in Virginia, but is illegal in other states such as Maryland, DC, New York, New Jersey, etc.
MYTH: Host Parents are required to provide use of a car for their Au Pair.
- False. Host Parents are not required by Dept. of State to provide a vehicle for Au Pair’s use. However, Host Parents are required to provide LOCAL transportation for their Au Pair’s education and monthly meetings. If Au Pair is to drive the family vehicle either on or off duty, Host Parents must include the Au Pair on their auto insurance policy.
FACT: An Au Pair is responsible for any damages to family vehicle when using family vehicle OFF duty (expect $500 as this is the deductible for most auto insurance policies in US). This includes damage due to deer, someone else hitting car, etc. The Host Family is responsible for damage to the family car when the Au Pair is driving while ON duty. The Au Pair is ALWAYS responsible for any driving or parking violation that occurs during their ON or OFF duty driving of the family vehicle.
FACT: Drivers age 21 or older are considered to be driving under the influence (DUI) if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08 percent or higher. If your driving is impaired, you can be convicted of driving under the influence with a BAC lower than .08 percent. If under age 21, you can be convicted of illegal consumption of alcohol if your BAC is at least .02 but less than .08. If your BAC is .08 or higher you could be convicted of a DUI. If convicted of illegal consumption of alcohol and/or driving under the influence of alcohol, Au Pairs are dismissed from the Au Pair program. Also, the Dept. of State will not grant another US VISA of any kind with a misdemeanor/DUI documented on an Au Pair VISA. Be responsible and call Uber after consuming alcohol or ride with someone that is a designated driver.
FACT: All children under age 8 must be properly secured in a child safety seat or booster seat. Children should ride rear facing from birth to 2 years, or as long as the safety seat manufacturer allows. The driver is responsible for properly restrained children and will be fined if found in violation.
FACT: The speed limits in the Charlottesville area vary a lot. This is due to many things: seemingly constant construction with work zone speeds, hills and curvy roads, residential areas, highways, and interstates. Be alert for speed limit changes as you drive.
MYTH: You can pass a school bus when it is safe to do so.
- False, you can not pass a school bus when it is stopped. In fact, US drivers must stop in both directions on the road when a school bus is stopped. See DMV manual for more details. FYI, many buses have cameras now for this reason.
What do I do if I am stopped by a Police? If you are stopped by a police officer:
- Remain calm.
- Pull your vehicle to the side of the road in a safe location and park.
- Turn on your flashers.
- If you are pulled over at night, turn on your vehicle’s interior lights.
- Turn off your engine, radio, and any other device that could block communication with the officer.
- Roll down your window so that you can communicate with the officer. An officer may approach your vehicle on the driver or passenger side for safety reasons.
- Keep your safety belt fastened and ask your passengers to keep their belts fastened.
- Stay in your vehicle. Do not get out unless the officer asks you to.
- Keep your hands in plain view, preferably on the steering wheel. Ask your passengers to keep their hands in plain view also.
- Do not make any movement that will make the officer think you are hiding or reaching for something.
- Carry proper identification: a valid driver’s license, proof of vehicle registration and proof of insurance. If the officer asks for these documents, tell him where they are and reach for them slowly, keeping one hand on the steering wheel.
- If the officer is driving an unmarked car or is not in uniform, you may ask to see his or her identification.
- Answer the officer’s questions fully and clearly. If you disagree with the officer, do not discuss your point of view at that time. You will have your chance to make your case in court.
- You will be asked to sign the citation. Sign the citation; this is not an admission of guilt. Refusal to sign the citation may result in your arrest. Or, you may be required to go to the police station.
The above is adapted from the Virginia Driver’s Manual.