Harsher punishment sought for underage DUIs

By Sunni Blevins - bio | email | facebook

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you choose to drink and drive, kiss your license goodbye.  That's the message Virginia lawmakers are sending to crack down on underage drinking and driving.  Both houses are supporting a harsher punishment for underage DUIs.

Virginia lawmakers are doing more to keep drunk drivers off the roads, and they are focusing on those under the age of 21, who aren't supposed to be drinking in the first place.

A bill supported by both Houses will make underage drinking and driving a class I misdemeanor, mandate the loss of the driver's license for one year and require that same driver to either pay a $500 fine or do at least 50 hours of community service.

Current law could cost you your license for six months, and a judge can decide any additional punishment, so this new bill creates more severe consequences along with a criminal record.

"We hope this will send a message to young drivers to not even make the decision as to whether to get behind the wheel if they've made that first mistake of breaking the law and drinking underage; not even a decision at all; they simply would never consider doing it because the stakes are too high," said Martha Meade with AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The new law will also make the punishment for underage DUIs as severe as current penalties for underage alcohol possession.  Tom McLean is a junior criminal justice major at VCU.  He says college has helped his peer group make smart decisions.

"The friends I have, all my friends know how much they can and can't drink; they know their limit; they know to get a designated driver, so they are smart," McLean said.

Tom feels it will take some time, but he believes this new law will wake up others who make poor decisions.

"Not at first, but when they see or hear that their friends are going to jail or getting their license revoked, it might an impact and scare them so they'll stop doing it," he said.

Lawmakers are confident that Governor Bob McDonnell will sign off on this legislation.

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