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.
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.
The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.
Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.
But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.
That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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CalendarThe Henrico Theatre Company will present “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” a musical comedy, July 11-27 at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Rd. Evening performances begin at… Full text