Lawmakers support bill to tighten underage drinking laws

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011


RICHMOND—The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would provide “zero tolerance” for underage drinking and driving — targeting young drivers with a blood alcohol content as low as 0.02 percent.

The committee’s 11-0 vote sent the bill to the full Senate for consideration this week. Members of the committee include area Sens. Frederick Quayle, R-Suffolk, and Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.

Currently, motorists who are under 21 and are caught drinking and driving can lose their license for six months and face a fine of up to $500.

Under the bill sponsored by Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, such drivers could forfeit their license for a year and face a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service.

Marsden said that a previous law targeting underage drinking and driving expired last year — and that’s why his proposal is needed.

Similar bills have been proposed in previous legislative sessions. They didn’t pass partly because some officials thought such proposals might violate laws on age discrimination, Marsden said.

However, he added, the U.S. Justice Department has determined that proposals like the bill would not violate any federal laws or cost the state any federal funding.

Marsden said his bill is important because it makes the punishment for underage drinking and driving equal to the punishment for underage possession of alcohol.

“If you’re 20 years old and parked on the side of the road with three beers in the car, you have committed a Class 1 misdemeanor,” Marsden said. “However, if you pull out onto the road and get caught and you don’t blow a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content, you get a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

The legal limit for intoxication in Virginia 0.08 percent.

Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Martinsville, a member of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, supports Marsden’s bill.

“The argument in favor of it is that you discourage drinking and driving and that you put the same discouragement for drinking and driving as you do on possessing alcohol underage,” Reynolds said.