One year after garnering national attention for saddling state drivers with much-maligned abusive driving fees, Virginia is getting decidedly less ink for its latest round of new laws.
For the most part, thats a good thing.
While none of the 100-plus laws that went on the books July 1 is particularly controversial, at least one should have an immediate impact on young drivers across the state.
Going forward, teenagers convicted in Virginia of driving after consuming virtually any amount of alcohol will lose their drivers licenses for a year and be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. That doubles the current drivers license suspension period and should go a long way toward strengthening our reputation as a state that has little tolerance for those who drink and drive.
Until this week, teens convicted of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 (the equivalent of consuming just one drink in one hour) were penalized with a six-month drivers license suspension and a fine of not more than $500.
To their credit, Virginia legislators realized six months without a license wasnt tough enough to alter behavior thats been trending the wrong way for more than a decade.
According to a recent state-sponsored survey on substance abuse, 76 percent of Virginias high school seniors and 64 percent of 10th-graders reported using alcohol. Even more troubling is that nearly one in three seniors reported consuming five or more drinks in a row within the report periods past two weeks.
If those numbers arent cause for alarm, this one should be: According to data compiled by the Virginia Department of Transportation, alcohol-related traffic fatalities involving Virginia teens went up a staggering 43 percent in 2006 nearly triple the rate of increase in such fatalities among all age drivers in Virginia.
We arent nave enough to believe doubling license suspension periods and fines are going to keep every young driver in the state from making a bad decision, but theres little doubt 16- and 17-year-olds in this state know about these new laws. Its also safe to assume most will be thinking about it the next time booze is introduced at a late-night party.
At the end of the day, laws are introduced to save lives and aid our quality of life. This one succeeds on both counts.