Va. toughens laws on underage drinking

Va. toughens laws on underage drinking

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Virginia is stiffening the penalties for underage drinking and driving.

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.

Fines levied for driving offenses are often dispatched by parents, said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

“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.”

Trempe, who has a slight frame, wondered how medicines such as cough syrup could affect blood-alcohol levels and whether it would be taken into consideration.

“If I get my license suspended, it would be a year of no working for me,” she said.

But Connie Trinh, 18, of Centreville in Fairfax County, said drinking is illegal for those younger than 21 anyway, and that drinking and driving is “selfish” at any age.

“I do think it’s a little harsh, but it’s probably necessary,” she said.

Shruti Paskar, 19, also of Centreville, said she thinks it will take a while to become a deterrent for young drivers because those who engage in the practice now aren’t likely to stop.

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.

Chesterfield County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney M. Duncan Minton Jr. noted that the evolving drinking laws reflect how seriously the matter is taken.

“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.”

Please contact us if you have questions or need legal assistance.
Tucker Griffin Barnes P.C.
Charlottesville, Virginia
434-973-7474

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About Charlotteville Personal Injury Attorney

Personal Injury attorney helping people injured in automobile, truck or mortorcycle accidents.
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