Virginia cracks down on drunken underage drivers

John Egan

Virginia has gotten tougher on young drivers who drink alcohol.

Under a new state law, anyone under age 21 who's convicted of driving after consuming virtually any amount of alcohol will lose his driver’s license for a year and be guilty of a first-class misdemeanor. That driver will be slapped with a mandatory fine of at least $500 or a minimum of 50 hours of community service.

“If you should exercise poor judgment and make a bad decision to drink alcohol in Virginia underage, and if you further complicate that decision by getting behind the wheel of an automobile … you’re going to be walking for 12 months,” says Bill Janis, a Henrico Republican who championed the legislation in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The new Virginia law took effect July 1. A minor with a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.02 -- the equivalent of one beer consumed in one hour by someone weighing 160 pounds -- can be punished under this new law.

"As the father of two teenage Virginians, I know this legislation will make my kids and everyone else's kids safer on Virginia highways," Janis says.

Under the old law, a minor convicted of driving after consuming alcohol was guilty of a second-class misdemeanor and gave up his driver's license for six months. A judge had the option of punishing an offender with a fine of up to $500 or community service.

The legal limit for DUI in Virginia remains 0.08 for drivers 21 and older.

In 2010, nearly 1,300 drivers under the legal drinking age of 21 were convicted of drunken driving in Virginia; most were 18 to 20 years old.

"Unfortunately, teens are one of the highest-risk populations on our roadways," says Richard Holcomb, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. "Despite meaningful efforts to curb underage drinking and driving, it still remains a significant problem."

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