Virginia and Maryland Enact Alcohol Laws

by: Mike Miller

Lawmakers are sure keeping busy in Maryland and Virginia these days. Many of these new laws deal with alcohol. Alcohol-related laws in Maryland and Virginia are among hundreds in both states that were signed this year.

Underage drivers in Virginia face tougher penalties for drunken driving, Virginia restaurants can let diners bring their own wine, and drinkers in Maryland will pay an additional 3 cents on the dollar in sales tax.

Virginia Welcomes Tougher Alcohol Laws

Under new Virginia alcohol laws, teens convicted of driving after drinking alcohol will lose their licenses for a year, twice as long as before, and face a $500 minimum fine or 50 hours of community service. The new rule also elevates the offense to a Class 1 misdemeanor, the same severity as possession of alcohol by a minor.

“It just didn’t make any sense that actually drinking a beer and then getting in a car and driving carried less of a penalty than just possessing the beer,” said state Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax), who sponsored the legislation. “We’ve closed a real loophole here and can get the word out to young people that drinking at all is going to put them at risk of being convicted of a crime.”

Want to Lose Your License?

The law restores penalties that were adopted in 2008 but expired last year out of concerns, which turned out to be unfounded, that the provision could jeopardize federal funding. While the law was in effect, the number of 15- to 20-year-olds who died in alcohol-related crashes fell to 39 in 2009 and 28 in 2010, down from 43 in 2007 and 51 in 2008, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

“When the driver’s license is at stake, teens will think twice,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program and a lobbyist who supported the legislation. “There’s not a 19-year-old on the planet that wants their mother to drive them on a date.”

There is no doubt that alcohol is one of the most regulated industries in America. Lawmakers continue to make it more costly to drink and drive. Hopefully, by targeting younger drivers, the new laws will allow for safer driving for years to come.