RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bill to ban the vehicle modification known as the “Carolina Squat” following a deadly crash last month.
The issue came to the forefront following 8News’ coverage of the tragic death of Jody “BJ” Upton Jr., the 27-year-old father killed in a collision involving a modified truck while on the way to work in Mecklenburg County on Wednesday, Feb. 16.
At a ceremony in Lynchburg on Monday, Youngkin was joined by the Upton Jr.’s family.
“Nothing is going to bring BJ back to us but our hope and our prayer is that this law being signed today will save someone else’s child,” said Betty Upton, BJ’s grandmother.
The law prohibits modifications that result in the height of the front bumper being more than four inches greater than the height of the rear bumper. Opponents say it dangerously reduces the driver’s visibility.
Nikki Allman, BJ’s girlfriend, called the “Carolina Squat” a major factor in her boyfriend’s death.
“I really do believe that accident could have been prevented had the other driver been able to see and I’m just glad that no other families will have to go through what our families went through. You know, nobody else will lose their dad,” Allman said.
The law was fast-tracked with broad bipartisan support after the family spoke out. 8News’ interviews with loved ones were printed on flyers calling for change and spread throughout the State Capitol.
“In order to make our highways safer, in order to make Virginia safer, we must come together and this is a moment for us to come together with legislation,” Youngkin said.
The legislation passed both chambers with an emergency clause, meaning that the law will take effect within the next day once it is formally communicated back to the House Clerk’s Office and enrolled in the Act of Assembly.
Youngkin said Virginia is the second state to ban the after-market vehicle modification behind North Carolina. South Carolina is considering doing the same.
Ann Taylor Kallam, BJ’s future sister-in-law, hopes the nation will take notice and take action.
“Just because it happened in Virginia doesn’t mean it’s not gonna happen in South Carolina. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen in Florida. It can happen anywhere,” Kallam said.
Bill sponsor Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) said the law makes the “Carolina Squat” a primary offense, meaning police can stop a driver just for having the modification. He said it’s punishable by a fine of up to $250, though lawmakers may consider increasing the penalty in the 2023 session.
“It’s a new problem and so we want to see how many tickets there are, how drivers respond and what feedback we get from law enforcement,” Peake said.