Va. toughens underage drinking and driving penalties

Sunday - 6/19/2011, 9:02am EDT

WASHINGTON - Harsher penalties for underage drinking and driving start in Virginia on July 1.

The state will now have a zero tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. The new law says anyone under the age of 21 with a blood alcohol level of 0.02 percent or higher is subject to a $500 fine or 50 hours of community service and a one year driver's license suspension, if found guilty.

"That's not up to a year, that is a hard, fast one year driver's license suspension, plus being guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor," says Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 percent can be reached by a person weighing 120 lbs. having one drink an hour.

Erickson says one teen is injured every 16 hours in alcohol-related crashed in Virginia.

Erickson says this puts an old penalty back in place, after it expired under a sunset provision in 2008. He think the law will become permanent this time.

The legal limit for those over 21 is 0.08. All drivers over that limit would be subject to a DUI charge.

WTOP's Hank Silverberg contributed to this report. Follow Hank and WTOP on Twitter.

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