Drunk driving law stiffened

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, June 30, 2011

Legislation: Governor Bob McDonnell signed legislation Thursday to increase the penalty for underage drinking and driving. The legislation elevates underage drinking and driving to a class 1 misdemeanor and goes into effect today, along with numerous other new laws.

New laws taking effect today impose stricter penalties on underage drunken drivers, make the process of getting a protective order easier, allow patrons to bring their own wine to restaurants and allow GPS tracking of criminals on a suspended sentence or secured bond.

The laws are among many that were passed in this year’s General Assembly session.

Drunken driving

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The new regulation increasing the penalties on young drunken drivers was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Drivers under the legal drinking age of 21 who are caught driving drunk now face loss of their driver’s license for a year and either a $500 minimum fine or 50 hours of community service. Currently, those drivers would lose their license for only six months and face a maximum fine of $500.

“This new law is right in line with Virginia’s ‘zero tolerance’ stance against underage drinking and driving,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb, the governor’s highway safety representative.

“Zero tolerance” means the legal limit for those under 21 is .02 percent blood alcohol concentration, which is the normal alcohol content of the average person.

Delegate Chris Jones (R-76) said he thinks the new punishments are appropriate.

“There’s still more that needs to be done on drunk driving, for first-time offenders and those that re-offend,” he said.

Other traffic laws

Another new law allows motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles to pass through intersections at red lights if their vehicles fail to trigger the sensor that changes the light. They may treat the red light as a stop sign if they have waited two full cycles of the light or two minutes, whichever is shorter.

In addition, cameras installed inside school buses may now be used to prosecute violators of school bus traffic laws. The cameras can record license plates of drivers who pass a school bus that is loading or unloading students, as well as the dates and times of such incidents.

“Of course with school buses, we want to do everything we can to protect the passengers,” said Melanie Stokes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Protective orders

In response to the death of University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love, the General Assembly also loosened the requirements for obtaining a protective order.

Love’s boyfriend has been arrested in connection with her death.

The new law states that anyone who has suffered an injury through an act of violence or who reasonably fears death, sexual assault or injury now can obtain a protective order, regardless of the relationship between the parties involved. Formerly, only specific criminal acts, like stalking, could trigger a protective order.

“I think the protective-order change in the law is a good one,” Jones said.

Miscellaneous laws

  • The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act provides about $100 million in extra funding for colleges and establishes a higher education advisory committee.
  • Another new law allows GPS tracking of defendants or convicted criminals on a secured bond, suspended sentence or probation if ordered by a court. It also allows defendants to be billed for the cost.
  • Patrons at restaurants now can bring their own wine to be served. The restaurant may charge a corking fee.