Editor’s Note: This story has been updated following Governor Ralph Northam’s March 12, 2021 signing of H.B. 1918, also known as “Conner’s Law,” into law.
YORK COUNTY — Tammy McGee is thankful that the bill named for her son is now law.
“I’m obviously very proud of the ability to get this law passed so quickly,” she said. McGee added that she could not have done it without support from Del. Martha Mugler (D-Hampton), Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City County), and nine other cosponsors.
“We’re excited. We’re happy that Conner’s death is not in vain and that he will be able to help others since we can’t help him anymore,” McGee said.
But she doesn’t want to stop there. McGee has even more plans to continue to honor her son.
One of those plans is to take on Virginia’s negligent entrustment law; something that McGee said has not been updated in decades.
“So I’m hoping to work with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association as well as a delegate sponsoring this going forward,” McGee said. “This is not the only thing that can happen to help out other people; especially people that would have wound up in situations… but really what we want to do is to make sure we are looking at what can possibly be done.”
In addition, she is also working to add a statewide pilot program through the Governors Highway Safety Association; a nonprofit organization that represents state highway safety offices in order to improve traffic safety and other related issues.
This pilot program would require parents to participate in driver’s education programs as part of their teen’s driver’s education and licensing process. This is based on programs that exist in other states and are mandated by those states’ laws.
McGee said that there is only one pilot program in Virginia, but her goal is to expand it statewide.
“Any child that dies is too many when we can prevent those and educate, and get their parents involved…that’s what needs to happen,” she added.
After Tammy McGee was laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic, managing the Gweedo Memorial Fund — named after her son, Conner Guido — and advocating for a bill is now her full-time job.
“This has been the last 14 months of my life,” she added.
If HB1918 — or as McGee calls, it “Conner’s Law” — passes, all high schools in the state would be required to have a uniformed parking pass permit, with each high school verifying a valid driver’s license or “driver’s privilege card” prior to permit approval.
In addition, the bill also includes a requirement for a 10th grade curriculum about the dangers of distracted driving and speeding. The bill passed the General Assembly unanimously and is headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.
Guido, 16, was one of three boys from Tabb High School who died in a car crash on Oct. 26, 2019.
RELATED STORY: 3 teens killed in York County crash
State Police spokesperson Sgt. Michelle Anaya said in an email on Feb. 25 that factors in the crash included: “speed, inexperienced driver, high-performance vehicle, unfamiliarity with roadway, but speed was excessive — no breaking or skids marks prior to crashing off the roadway.”
McGee hopes that the education portion of the bill will teach teenagers to recognize that they are operating a “killing vehicle” and hopes that parents will get on board, too.
“If you look up the statistics on teen driving and teenage death, reckless driving, speeding is still the number one cause of death,” she added.
Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for the YCSD, said on Monday per the school division’s policy, it could not comment on specific student or employee matters.
Goff said that prior to the 2021 school year, parking passes were considered a “school-based process,” meaning each school’s process was different.
For Tabb High School, Goff noted the school had several procedures requiring a “parental signature and address, some other details related to the driver’s license and the need for a parking pass in a vehicle.”
According to page 38 of the YCSD Student Handbook, “only those students in work-study programs, in mentorships and practicums, with medical excuses, or with special permission of the principal have permission to have vehicles on school property.”
The handbook does not specify if a student requires a license in order to be issued a permit.
Doug Hartley, associate director of school administration & compliance at YSCD, said over the phone on Feb. 26 that last school year, students could purchase a parking permit if they had a learner’s permit, but the actual parking permit itself would not be issued until the student had their license.
“There is a bit of a wait time with parking permits, so we allowed students to buy them in advance so they wouldn’t have to wait,” he added.
Now, YCSD high school students must wait until they have their driver’s license to fill out the paperwork to purchase a parking permit, according to Hartley.
As for the division’s driving curriculum, YCSD Chief Operations Officer Jim Carroll said over the phone on Feb. 26 there have been no changes to the curriculum subjects, but the state is reviewing its standards of learning concerning driving.
McGee hopes that this bill will help prevent future crashes like the one which killed her son.
“I can’t comment as to what other schools in York County do or don’t do … I don’t know if they have had an instance like ours but this bill is to protect those students going forward,” she added.
Besides advocating for the bill, McGee will continue to run the nonprofit she created in Guido’s name, The Gweedo Memorial Fund, which now sponsors a scholarship for high school seniors.
In addition, McGee created the “If You See Something Say Something” website, which allows teens to send anonymous tips about driving, bullying drugs and other topics.
McGee plans to expand the website’s reach beyond the local schools and advocate for a nationwide bill requiring all high schools to sponsor the bill.
“I think it’s important that we refer to it as Conner’s Law,” she said, adding this is an opportunity to honor him. “I can’t help Conner anymore but I can help other people and that’s what we are trying to do.”
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