Motor Vehicle Safety – Driving While Intoxicated in Virginia: A Bad Gamble That’s Not Worth It

As a former Virginia prosecutor, I have seen the negative effects of drunk driving firsthand.[1] Drivers who are intoxicated endanger their own lives as well as the lives of the passengers in their cars, other motorists on the road, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Virginia has some of the most stringent driving under the influence (“DUI”) laws in the nation. Drunk drivers can be, and often are, sentenced to exceedingly long periods of incarceration.[2]  Elected prosecutors have significant political motivations to prosecute DUI offenses to the full extent of the law and thus are exceedingly hesitant to offer plea bargains to DUI offenders. In addition, the legislature annually reviews the performance of judges, and the vigilant enforcement of drunk driving laws is frequently part of this review.[3]

Pursuant to Virginia Code § 18.2-266, it is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol or any other self-administered intoxicant.[4] There is no requirement that the driver’s blood alcohol percentage be above a certain limit before he or she is in violation of the law.[5]

A first offense for driving while intoxicated in Virginia is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries up to 12 months incarceration and a minimum fine of $250.[6] If a driver’s blood alcohol percentage (“BAC”) is between .08 and .15 the mandatory minimum period of incarceration is 5 days. When a driver’s BAC is above .20, the mandatory minimum period of confinement is 10 days. Subsequent convictions lead to enhanced mandatory minimum sentences and eventual felony exposure.

While driving under the influence can land you in jail, it can also carry serious liability consequences when someone is injured.[7] In the wake of a DUI conviction insurance carriers will triple or even quadruple your premiums.[8] Putting the potential for incarceration aside, when you total the court costs, fines, attorney’s fees, mandatory alcohol classes and ignition interlock fees, it is clear that driving while intoxicated in Virginia just isn’t worth the risk.  More importantly, when you drive under the influence, you risk causing injury or death to yourself and others on the highway.  Help keep the roadways safe for all of us; don’t drink and drive.

About the Author: Chris Toepp is a Fredericksburg, VA personal injury lawyer with the law firm of Allen & Allen. He handles case involving car accidents, victims injured by drunk drivers, pedestrian accidents and a variety of other personal injury claims.

[1] In an accident involving tragic consequences, a VCU student made the decision to drive home after consuming alcohol at his friend’s birthday party. He ran a red light in downtown Richmond and crashed into the car in which a fellow VCU student was riding. That passenger was pronounced dead at VCU Medical Center shortly after the accident. For an article describing the sentencing phase of the case, which provides a glimpse into the many lives the drunk driver ruined when he made the decision to drive while intoxicated, see .

[2] For example, a jury recommended a drunk driver serve 7 years in prison after he was convicted of driving while intoxicated with several prior convictions.  See .

[3] Organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (“MADD”) put significant political pressure on elected and police officials to vigorously enforce DUI laws. For more information on their activities, see MADD’s website at

[5] See e.g. Oliver v. Commonwealth, 40 Va. App. 20, 24 (2003) holding that “test results from a breath or blood test are not necessary or required to prove driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

[7] Va Code § 8.01-44.5 provides for exemplary damages to be awarded to persons injured by intoxicated drivers.   See Va Code § 8.01-44.5 at

[8] For an article on the insurance consequences following a DUI conviction, see .