New Virginia Laws Target Underage Drinking

With recent U.S. data showing underage drinking on the rise, the Virginia Assembly has enacted four new, anti-teen drinking laws effective July 1, 2010.  The Commonwealth’s new underage drinking laws include:

– eliminating the current mandate that persons under 18 convicted of underage drinking automatically have their disposition deferred (HB 862, Cline);

–  allowing courts to suspend both the motor vehicle and driver’s license or impose a driving curfew for persons under 18 twice convicted of underage drinking (HB 908, Bell);

– disallowing courts from issuing restricted driver’s licenses for school travel to persons under 18 convicted of either DUI or refusing a blood alcohol content test (HB 863, Cline);

– limiting where alcohol legally served to those underage (families within a residence) is consumed (TO such residence) (HB 1293, Cleaveland).

Virginia's tougher underage drinking laws went into effect July 1, 2010

“Virginia’s newest teen drinking laws are apt responses to both alcohol continuing to be the most commonly used substance by Virginia teens and that more than ten-percent of those injured in the Commonwealth’s drunk driving crashes are 15 to 19-year-olds” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, President of the nonprofit and Virginia-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), registered Virginia lobbyist and proponent of this year’s underage drinking bills.

In March of this year, the U.S. Partnership for a Drug-Free America released the findings of its 2009 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study showing alcohol use amongst American high school students increasing by 11-percent since 2008. In addition and according to Virginia’s Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services’ last released and statewide Virginia Community Youth Survey (2005), alcohol use amongst the Commonwealth’s youth has remain unchanged for the report’s last half-decade (2000 – 2005).

According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, over ten-percent (10.29%) of those injured in the Commonwealth’s drunk driving crashes in 2009 were 15 to 19-year-olds.

In addition to Virginia’s new underage drinking policies, other related and new Virginia laws include; establishing a new Class 1 misdemeanor penalty for school bus operators consuming or possessing alcohol (HB 1353); and the mandating of seatbelt use by persons under 18 in the rear seats of vehicles (as is currently required of persons under 16) (SB 219).