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The General Assembly voted in March to institute tougher penalties to curb the number of car accidents involving teens who drink and drive. Those stiffer penalties go into effect today.

Previously, those younger than 21 who had consumed alcohol but were not legally drunk before getting behind the wheel faced fines, community service and a license suspension of up to six months. Under the new law, such an offense qualifies as a misdemeanor and carries a mandatory one-year driver’s license suspension, among other punishments.

The hope is that these penalties will be a strong deterrent for teens tempted to drink and drive. In Virginia, 46 teens died in alcohol-related car crashes in 2006, the latest figure available from the Department of Motor Vehicles . Let’s hope these numbers decline in 2008, as teens weigh the loss of driving privileges for 6 months against the choices of not drinking and driving, utilizing designated drivers, or calling parents or a cab for a ride home. As we all know too well, these choices seem much more rational to adults than to teenagers.

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