Va. toughens laws on underage drinking
Published: June 15, 2011
Come July 1, drivers younger than 21 with a blood-alcohol level of .02 percent or higher would lose their license for one year if convicted, and pay a fine of at least $500 or perform 50 hours of community service.
The approach is intended to promote a zero-tolerance drinking-and-driving policy early by targeting a teen’s ticket to freedom.
“But a driver’s license — there’s not a teen on the planet who wants his mother to drive him on a date,” he said.
A person weighing 120 pounds can reach a .02 percent blood-alcohol level after having one drink in one hour, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
All drivers with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent and above still would be subject to a DUI charge.
“I think that’s too harsh, definitely,” Colleen Trempe, 20, of Richmond, said of the new law. “I have a lot of feelings about the legal drinking age anyway. I think it should be 18.”
“If I get my license suspended, it would be a year of no working for me,” she said.
“I do think it’s a little harsh, but it’s probably necessary,” she said.
Del. Bill Janis, R-Henrico, a father of two teenagers, first introduced the bill in 2008. It’s also meant to bring closer the punishments for underage possession and underage drinking and driving.
“We want to send a message at the earliest possible point when somebody gets in trouble with the law along these lines that this is serious,” Janis said. “And we felt like expanding the penalties so that they were at least comparable with the penalties for simple possession (was) just common sense.”
Janis’ bill passed in 2008 but carried a clause phasing it out in 2010 because of concerns that the state could lose federal law-enforcement funding if the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention views it as a “status offense,” meaning it creates a crime for a juvenile that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.
Janis reintroduced the measure as permanent legislation during the 2011 General Assembly session.
Sen. David W. Marsden, D-Fairfax, who carried the measure in the Senate, said he was told by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention that it did not foresee the change affecting funding.
“These drivers are newer, much more susceptible to alcohol even at lower blood-alcohol levels, having a dramatic impact on them physiologically,” Marsden said.
“Frankly, 20 years ago, if you got picked up after you were drinking a little bit you might have gotten a ride home by the police officer,” he said. “And societal attitudes have changed. They no longer see it as kind of a nuisance. They see it as a real danger.”