Weird Laws in Virginia and Beyond

Weird Laws in Virginia and Beyond

There is usually little funny or extraordinary about the daily practice of law, especially personal injury cases. However, looking back throughout history, we get a chuckle out of some cases that may have come across the desk of the barristers of yore.

What is rightfully called weird today is often relevant to society and the mores of our forefathers. Gentlemen: picture, for example, walking down Main Street in town waving a red flag every time a woman was behind the wheel of a car. That law (yes, it is still on the books!) quite possibly derives from the Locomotive Act of 1865, or the Red Flag law, a way of warning of impending danger.

On January 1, 1916, The Girl Scouts launched the “Automobling Badge” to award accomplishments in driving skills, auto mechanics, and first aid skills. Today STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) studies are in almost every school curriculum today, and now the Girl Scouts of the USA offer nine badges in Automotive Engineering. Women drivers no longer need to have a red flag warning preceding them. Remember, Danica Patrick landed the cover of Sports Illustrated when she came in fourth at the Indianapolis 500. Things do evolve—for the better in some cases.

So why do archaic laws remain on the books? For those old enough to remember Schoolhouse Rock, the segment called “I’m Just a Bill” (click here for the lyrics) explains in easily understandable terms the steps of passing a bill. The main premise is that it takes time. The reverse is also true.

Removing a law, even an old outdated one, can take time and money best spent on new and relevant legislation. Change does come, however slow. Effective July 1, 2018, you can now hunt raccoons all day long on Sundays. Previous laws mandated raccoon hunting to cease at 2 a.m.

The National Conference of State Legislatures is a bipartisan organization providing every state with a voice on Capitol Hill, among other duties, this delegate is instrumental in reviewing old laws that theoretically no longer serve a purpose. In Virginia, this is the Director of the Division of Legislative Services.

Although lifestyles and technology change fairly quickly, the truth is that when a law passes, it often lingers, sometimes decades after it makes sense. The political implications and fallout from criminalizing seemingly harmless acts may need a whole blog post to discuss. For now, let us just say it is safe to assume that every state in the union will continue to have laws that continue to outlive their practicality.

We admit these anachronistic laws, curated from various listicles are amusing:

  • Skunks are not allowed as pets, not even domesticated ones.
  • One may not wash a donkey on the sidewalk
  • Do not spit on a seagull in Norfolk
  • Citizens must honk their horns while passing other cars
  • The only animals you may hunt on Sundays are raccoons, and then only until 2 a.m.
  • For those thinking about becoming fortunetellers as a side hustle, think twice. Many counties only allow amateur fortunetellers and relegate them to schools and churches
  • In Virginia Beach. it is illegal to use profanity on Atlantic Avenue or the boardwalk. It is also unlawful to drive by the same place within 30 minutes on Atlantic Avenue
  • Bathtubs must be in the yard, not in the house
  • It is unlawful to carry certain canes or walking sticks
  • In Frederick, a person wishing to sell such items as tableware and coins requires a special license
  • In Richmond never toss a coin to decide who pays for coffee—it is technically illegal

Our biggest chuckle—honking the horn every time we pass a car! Can you just imagine the noise level, especially during rush hour?

Did You Know

Virginia has a law stating children over 18 can be held liable for their parents' living expenses. True. This is called filial responsibility. Twenty-six other states have the same law. Dating back to 16th century England, and rarely enforced, it could realistically happen. People live longer these days. In 1700 the life expectancy was 43 years, and today we are approaching 79 years.

Change comes slowly. Until very recently Virginal had a habitual drunkard law on the books allowing law enforcement officials to prosecute and penalize folks for having alcohol in their possession. Back in 1873, if at least two of your friends or relatives agreed you drank too much, you may find yourself spending a year or so in a rehabilitative facility. Not too very long ago, some folks, considered interdicted (habitual drunkards) could face arrest and criminal charges simply for being near alcohol.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he had signed HB 1071 into law, repealing a law on the books since 1792 that prohibits profane swearing in public.

Some Interesting New Laws

  • Beginning in 2022 Roanoke will implement a $0.05 tax on disposable plastic bags provided by grocery, convenience, and drug stores within the city limits. Maybe we all need to investigate the possibility of buying some reusable shopping bags.
  • Laying on sidewalks (or camping) in the city of Roanoke is a misdemeanor offense and punishable by a fine as of January 1, 2022
  • It is unlawful, according to §29.1-556.1, for any person over 16 years old to intentionally release non-biodegradable balloons. The civil penalty for doing so is $25 per balloon
  • All public buildings must contain “Physically safe, sanitary, and appropriate baby changing facilities.

All humor aside, we understand the physical and financial implications that accident victims face. Choosing the right personal injury lawyer can make a significant difference. If you or a family member need help with the legal complexities of personal injury law, reach out to an experienced attorney today.

William B. Kilduff


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