Virginia Senate Passes Drunk Driving Bill

Virginia Senate Passes Drunk Driving Bill

The Senate passed a bill allowing Virginians to drive while intoxicated if they are on their own property or adjoining property. In 2018, a bill introduced by Senator Richard Stuart, R-King George, allowing similar liberties was struck down by the House. The failed 2018 legislation was meant to reinforce that the drunk driving laws in the state are only applied to those who drive on public roadways. When an individual is drinking and in a vehicle on that individual’s own property, then he or she cannot be charged.

In 2018, Senator Mark Obenshain voted for the original bill but against the more popular 2020 legislation that ultimately passed. Conversely, Senators Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, and Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, voted against the 2018 bill but for the 2020 legislation.

Currently, the law in Virginia states that you cannot operate a motor vehicle if you are intoxicated. However, it does not define a difference between public and private property. The bill was put forward to better clarify the difference. Senator Obenshain voiced concerns that the legislation would compromise drunk driving laws. Additionally, he cited that there was not a need to distinguish a difference in public and private property because there was no evidence that people were being arrested when they are intoxicated on their own property. 

Obenshain indicated he saw a potential problem with the legislation undermining law enforcement’s ability to protect the public from drunk drivers. If someone is drunk in their car in a store’s parking lot, for instance, and the police cannot arrest them, the implication is that the individual had to get to where they were by driving there. They will also have to leave their location by driving when they clearly have alcohol in their system. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and law enforcement also oppose the bill and were in agreement with Obenshain’s opinions.

Kurt Erickson, president, and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program had his own concerns. The proposed bill will make the drunk driving laws in the state confusing. It aims to tell you where it is ok to drive intoxicated and where it is not. He echoed the explanation that the issue of people being arrested on their property was not occurring. 

Additionally, It may risk undermining the appropriate process and penalties associated with killing someone when drunk driving. If a person is inebriated and driving on their own property and ends up killing someone, what is the outcome? These cases may be treated much more differently than if they took place on a public road.

The bill has to pass the House to become law. Obenshain reported that he was hopeful that the House will kill the bill. The bill will be seen by the same House Courts of Justice subcommittee that struck down the 2018 attempt at the same legislation.

What are the Drunk Driving Statistics in Virginia?

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national average percentage of people who admit to driving when they drink too much is 1.9%. In Virginia, that number is 1.4%. In 2012, those aged 21-34 suffered more deaths in drunk driving accidents than any other age group. The number of fatalities that occurred in Virginia where a drunk driver was involved from 2003-2012 was 2,613 people.

There have been significant efforts on the part of elected officials and other organizations to help reduce the number of drunk drivers and thus, catastrophic drunk driving accidents. Across the country anyone driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher is illegal. However, if a driver is under the age of 21 and they have any amount of alcohol in their system, it is illegal. The age of 21 is the minimum age that any individual can consume alcohol legally in every state in the nation. 

What are the Penalties for Drunk Driving in Virginia?

Drunk driving is called “driving while intoxicated (DWI)” in the state of Virginia. Both driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol are covered under the DWI classification. Anyone driving under the following circumstances will be charged with a DWI:

  • BAC of .08% or higher
  • Blood concentration of .1 mg per liter and up of methamphetamine
  • Blood concentration of .02 mg per liter and up of cocaine
  • Blood concentration of .02 mg per liter and up of phencyclidine (PCP)

Even if you have not started up your vehicle and put it into motion, if you have drugs and alcohol in your system you can still get a DWI. The Virginia Supreme Court describes the operation of a vehicle is appropriate when a person is in “actual physical control” of it. The courts have not clarified parameters describing what “actual physical control” means, but if you are caught doing the following you are subject to arrest for DWI:

  • Seated in the driver seat 
  • Have the keys in the ignition

Those who have had past DWI arrests or other convictions will likely face the harsher ranger of the penalty threshold than those that are first-time offenders or have little or no history of convictions. Also, the extent of damage that was caused by the DWI will also factor into determining how severely you are penalized. If you are arrested and charged with a DWI, it will tarnish your record for 10 years before it is removed. 

The penalties a drunk driver in Virginia faces are:

  • The first offense will be jail time up to 12 months with fines from $250- $2,500 and a one-year license suspension. Also an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) of a minimum of six months.
  • A second offense will be a minimum of 10 days in jail and as much as 12 months with fines from $500-2,500 and a three-year license suspension. Also an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) of a minimum of six months.
  • A third offense will be a minimum of 90 days in jail and up to five years with fines from $1,000-2,500 and an indefinite suspension of license. Also an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) of a minimum of six months.

You are required to submit to a blood or breath test through Virginia’s implied consent laws. There are penalties if you refuse. 

  • Those who have a first offense and refuse to submit to the test will face a one-year license suspension.
  • Those who have a second and third offenses and refuse to submit to the test face a three-year license suspension. 

What Should You do When You Have Been Arrested for DWI in Virginia?

It is vital to the outcome of your case that you have a Virginia DWI defense attorney supporting you and protecting your legal rights. The penalties for drunk driving are severe and not only can they inconvenience your life, but they can negatively impact you for the duration of your life. Serving a long jail sentence and paying an expensive fine is hard for many.

You need a skilled attorney advising you on what to do and what not to do after your arrest. The Lynchburg DWI defense attorneys at the Straw Law Firm have considerable experience defending those who are facing DWI charges. The attorneys at the Straw Law Firm also have a proven track record of success helping these individuals avoid the harshest of penalties.

We look forward to speaking with you during a free consultation. Call our team Virginia criminal law attorneys today at (434) 595-3581.

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