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Virginia Highway Safety Office News Releases

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Media Contact: Melanie Stokes
Department of Motor Vehicles
(804) 367-6623

Penalties Tougher for Underage Drinking and Driving
New Laws Also Impact Learner's Permits, Mopeds, Child Restraints

RICHMOND -The punishment for underage drinkers who get behind the wheel will be stricter beginning July 1, 2008.

Underage drinking and driving will be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Currently, the punishment is loss of license for six months and a $500 maximum fine. The new penalty will be one year in jail and either a minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service.

Alcohol use by people under age 21 is prohibited in Virginia. The Commonwealth has a zero tolerance law regarding teens and alcohol use. Zero tolerance means the legal limit for teens is a .02 blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the normal alcohol content of the average person. Even a small amount of alcohol can result in a conviction.

Several other laws taking effect July 1 impact teen drivers. A new law requires learner's permit holders to practice behind the wheel for more hours. It increases the minimum driving hours from 40 to 45, and at least 15 of those hours must be after sunset. The law also requires certification of the hours the learner's permit holder drives, which must be documented on a form supplied by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Another new law affects those who drive a moped. Beginning July 1, anyone who operates a moped faster than 35 miles per hour is considered to be operating a motorcycle. The operator will be subject to the same traffic laws that govern motorcycles. Moped operators must be at least 16 years old, and every person driving a moped must carry some form of identification that includes name, address and date of birth.

Also starting July 1, the penalties for repeat violators of Virginia's child restraint law will be more stringent. First time offenders will continue to be subject to the current civil penalty of $50, but those convicted of a second or subsequent violation on different dates could pay a civil penalty of up to $500. Virginia state code requires children up to age 8 to be properly secured in a child restraint device. Children between 8 and 16 must be properly secured by an appropriate safety belt.

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