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Seven things to know about impaired driving (DUI) in Virginia

Most of us understand that driving under the influence is illegal. But what exactly does that mean to a Virginia driver who is arrested on suspicion of DUI?

According to the Commonwealth's Department of Motor Vehicles, "Virginia is tough on drunk and drugged drivers." Have new laws made things any different for first-time offenders or suspects? What should you expect (and what should you do) if you are pulled over on suspicion of drunk or drugged driving? Here are seven things to keep in mind.

1. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is important, but it's not the only thing

As many people know, the BAC threshold is generally .08. There are higher penalties for BAC of .15 and above and .20 and above. A breath test indicating a driver's BAC is .08 or higher will result in arrest. Law enforcement may also charge you with a crime for having an open container and you show signs of having consumed alcohol. Other criteria may be used by law enforcement officers who observe signs of alcohol or drug-related impairment.

2. Breath or blood test refusal is an option, but it has consequences

Refusing a breath test or blood test often results in in a one-year license suspension. A second test refusal, which can lead to a three-year suspension, is a Class 1 misdemeanor. 

3. Underage drivers are treated differently (and strictly)

People under the age of 21 can have their licenses suspended after illegal consumption of alcohol before driving, even with low BAC. With BAC of between .02 and .08, the license suspension can last a year.

4. The loss of your license is a major concern (and an administrative one)

Automatic license suspensions are prescribed by law. Following an arrest, the length of the suspension depends on whether it is a first or subsequent offense. Upon conviction for a first DUI, your license will be revoked for a year; for a second DUI, the revocation will be three years (and you can also do time in jail). It is important to note that license revocation is an administrative process handled by the DMV, not a criminal matter.

5. You may be required to have an ignition interlock device in your vehicle(s)

Some offenses will result in the required use of an ignition interlock device for a driver who is given restricted driving privileges or, in some cases, full driving privileges.

6. Certain mitigating factors can make the case more serious

Transporting minors (under 17) while you are impaired can compound a DUI case. Causing an accident can also make things far more serious.

7. Legal advice can make a difference in the outcome of your case

Every DUI case is different. A defense lawyer who understands the details of your case can develop a strategy that might include negotiating with a prosecutor, challenging the evidence, going to trial, or other options.

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