Virginia’s Zero Tolerance Law for Underage Drivers: A Quick Guide

Virginia's zero tolerance law places further restrictions on drivers under the age of 21 who choose to drive while intoxicated.

Drinking and driving is a bad idea no matter how old you are.

However, if a minor is caught drinking and driving the rules and consequences are even more strict.

In Virginia, the punishment is especially severe.

This is because the state has a zero tolerance law for underage drivers who are caught driving under the influence.

In this article, we’ll quickly cover the basics of this zero tolerance law.

Understanding Virginia’s Zero Tolerance Law

Police Traffic Stop. Policeman Stop Speeding Vehicle on the Side of the Highway. Chicago, Illinois, USA.

The Virginia Code specifically states that:

“It shall be unlawful for any person under the age of 21 to operate any motor vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol.”

Virginia Code § 18.2-266.1

Under this law, any minor who is caught driving with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.02 or higher will be charged with a DUI.

This is significantly lower than Virginia’s normal BAC maximum of 0.08.

Additionally, “zero tolerance” means that drivers under 21 can’t have any alcohol in their system if they want to drive.

This means that, even if they’re below the cut-off for a DUI charge, they’ll still face criminal penalties under this zero tolerance law.

Why are the Penalties Harsher for Underage Drivers?

First, if you are drinking underage, you are already breaking the law. Underage drinking alone is a Class 1 misdemeanor that can stay on your criminal record.

Second, motor vehicle accidents are statistically higher among teens aged 16-19.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reports that these drivers are 3 times more likely to cause a deadly crash than any other age group. 

Because of this, the Virginia legislature has enacted more restrictive laws for drivers under 21.

With these laws in place, the hope is that underage drivers will think twice before choosing to drink and drive.

Penalties for Underage DUI

DUI charges for minors are Class 1 misdemeanors.

This means the penalties could include:

Additionally, in most cases where a minor receives a DUI charge, they could also face additional charges such as underage possession of alcohol or reckless driving.

These can carry additional penalties on top of the original DUI charge.

Finally, if the minor refuses to take a breathalyzer test the officer can also charge them with an additional offense on top of the DUI charge.

Other Consequences of Underage DUI

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There are a few other charges to look out for which surround Virginia’s zero tolerance policy:

  • First, the penalties are even more strict for underage drivers who have a minor passenger in the car when they’re charged with a DUI.
  • Second, these drivers can incur additional penalties for having an exceptionally high BAC.

For example, if their BAC is over 0.08 they can face the same DUI penalties as an adult.

In both these cases, the court may decide to give a higher fine and harsher penalties. The minor might even spend some time in jail.

Lastly, remember that driving under the influence is a criminal offense. In most cases, it will stay on your criminal record forever.

That means that if you apply for a job, fill out a loan, or try to adopt a child the DUI will show up on your criminal background check.

These additional, extra-judiciary penalties are called “collateral consequences” and can seriously impact your life going forward if you’re found guilty.

Conclusion

Beautiful mixed race African American girl looking out of a window

Virginia has a zero tolerance law for underage drinking and driving.

This means that if a minor is caught driving with a BAC over 0.02, they’ll receive several mandatory consequences.

Specifically, minors who drink and drive face penalties such as the loss of their license, fines, community service, and having demerit points added to their license.

Remember, a DUI conviction will stay with you for many years to come, so you’ll want to hire an attorney who can help give you the best outcome in your case.

An experienced attorney can help you understand the charges and may be able to negotiate a reduced charge or a restricted license.

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A Client-First Approach to Legal Services

Ready to Speak With An Attorney?

We’re a Richmond, Virginia law firm with clients from around the world. Schedule your free phone consultation today and let’s talk about what we can do for you!