Henrico County VA
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A crackdown on underage drinking and driving

One teenager is sitting on the front porch about to drink a can of beer. Another is driving down I-95 with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit.

If caught, which teenager would receive a harsher punishment? The one on the porch, according to current state law.

Members of the General Assembly recently voted to correct that disparity and increase the penalties for underage drinking and driving.

In Virginia, possession of alcohol by someone under 21 is a Class 1 misdemeanor – a crime punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The section of the Virginia Code dealing with underage drinking and driving makes no mention of a misdemeanor. It simply states:

“It shall be unlawful for any person under the age of 21 to operate any motor vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol … A violation of this section shall be punishable by forfeiture of such person’s license to operate a motor vehicle for a period of six months from the date of conviction and by a fine of not more than $500.”

During the General Assembly’s recently concluded session, lawmakers passed legislation that will make underage drinking and driving a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The assembly passed two identical bills on the subject: Senate Bill 770, proposed by Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke; and House Bill 1407, sponsored by Delegate Bill Janis, R-Glen Allen.

Both bills won unanimous approval in the House and Senate and have been sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell to be signed into law.

The measures offer “zero tolerance” for underage drinking and driving: They would punish any driver under 21 who has a blood alcohol content of 0.02 or higher. (A BAC of 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated.)

Under the legislation, young people convicted of underage drinking and driving must forfeit their license to operate a motor vehicle for one year and either pay a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or perform 50 hours of community service.

Marsden said opponents of underage drinking have been trying to pass such a measure for years. But he said there were concerns that it might violate the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. (Under that law, states could lose certain federal funding if they arbitrarily criminalize “status offenses” – offenses based on a person being underage. The goal of the act is to minimize the number of young people sent to jail for nonviolent crimes.)

However, Marsden said federal officials assured him that this wouldn’t be a problem and that Virginia wouldn’t lose any funding if it cracks down on underage drinking and driving.

After he shared this information with his colleagues, Marsden said, the passage of SB 770 “went very smoothly.”

Alcohol awareness groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving view SB 770 and HB 1407 as a positive step.

Christopher Konschak, the program manager for the Virginia branch of MADD, said he hopes the new law will change some of the decisions teenagers make.

“We want young folk to look hard at what they are doing,” Konschak said. “We don’t want them in jail.”

According to MADD statistics, 28 percent of fatal traffic crashes involving teen drivers are alcohol-related.

Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Virginia-based nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program, also praised the legislation.

“Virginia lawmakers’ reaffirmation to crack down on drinking and driving teens is not only welcomed but needed,” Erickson said. He cited government statistics showing that more than one in 10 drunken drivers killed in Virginia in 2009 were under 21.

“What this law will mean come July 1 is that teens driving in Virginia with virtually any amount of alcohol in their systems will lose their license for a year and be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor,” Erickson said.

To track or comment on the legislation against underage drinking and driving, visit: http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/sb770 or http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/hb1407.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Do the Bunny Hop over to Meadow Farm on Saturday for an introduction to all the farm animals there! An introduction to “Global Sounds” – featuring Japanese, Indonesian, West African, Indian, and Brazilian music and dance performances – can be found at the University of Richmond. The University of Richmond will also host the annual Spider spring game, as well as the inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

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