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Virginia underage drinking and driving laws to change July 1

Beginning in July, the rules for Virginia drivers under the age of 21 who are caught drinking and driving will get much more stringent. A suspended driver's license and a fine or community service await young drivers with blood alcohol levels at .02 percent or higher.

All drivers with blood alcohol content readings of .08 remain subject to DUI charges, including those under 21. The additional penalties added in the new law are meant to discourage less-experienced drivers from getting behind the wheel after drinking.

If caught with a minimum BAC of .02, Virginia drivers under 21 face losing their driver's licenses for a year and paying $500 dollar fines or performing 50 hours of community service.

The tougher underage drinking law is a re-hash of one that expired last year. It was introduced a second time by Del. Bill Janis, R-Henrico. The first underage drinking and driving law had a limited shelf-life because legislators felt the rule might undermine federal funding for law enforcement agencies.

Had the law been interpreted by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as a "status offense" that unfairly penalized juveniles based on their age, Virginia may have lost some funding. However, Sen. David W. Marsden, D-Fairfax, says he was assured by the federal agency that the law carried no such penalty and the legislation - now permanent - was reintroduced.

An official of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program welcomes the stricter young driver rule. He said too many times parents have paid off fines for their underage kids to keep them out of trouble. By suspending the license of an underage driver who drinks, he stated, the punishment is levied directly upon the person who commits the crime.

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Va. Toughens laws on underage drinking," Olympia Meola, 15 June 2011

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