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The Law of Driving While Intoxicated in Virginia

Virginia Code § 18.2-266 is the law which proscribes driving under the influence in Virginia.  The statute sets out 5 different ways one may be convicted of this offense. 

It shall be unlawful for any person to drive or operate any motor vehicle, engine or train:

(i) While such person has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more by weight by volume or 0.08 grams or more per 210 liters of breath as indicated by a chemical test administered as provided in this article

This provision in the statute is what most people are familiar with, the so called “Legal Limit”.  If an individual provides a blood or breath sample with a reading of 0.08 or greater the court will presume, subject to rebuttal, that the test result accurately reflects what the person’s blood alcohol content was at the time of operation.

(ii) While such person is under the influence of alcohol

Under Virginia law the definition of “under the influence” and “intoxication” are the same. 

The law provides that “A person is under the influence of alcohol if such person has drunk enough alcoholic beverages to so affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior as to be apparent to observation.  Simply put once and individual has become observably affected by the consumption of alcohol one is legally under the influence or intoxicated. 

(iii) While such person is under the influence of any narcotic drug or any other self-administered intoxicant or drug of whatsoever nature, or any combination of such drugs, to a degree which impairs his ability to drive or operate any motor vehicle, engine or train safely

(iv) While such person is under the combined influence of alcohol and any drug or drugs to a degree which impairs his ability to drive or operate any motor vehicle, engine or train safely 

Interestingly, when one is under the influence of a drug, other than alcohol, or under the combined influence of a drug and alcohol, Virginia law provides that to support a conviction one must be under the influence and be influenced to a degree that impairs the ability to drive or operate safely.  This element, or requirement, to support a conviction that one’s ability to safely drive or operate be impaired is not required to be proved when one is under the influence of alcohol.  Merely, being under the influence of alcohol is enough to support a conviction.

Another way of conceptualizing this is, unlike being under the influence of a drug other than alcohol, one can be convicted of driving or operating under the influence of alcohol and NOT be impaired to the point of being incapable of operating a motor vehicle safely

The reason for the additional element or proof of “impairment of one’s ability to drive or operate safely”, required in a driving under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol case, is because many people are under the influence of drugs while driving.  Such drugs include caffeine, nicotine, blood pressure and cholesterol medications and the like.   However, being under the influence of a drug does not necessarily put the public at risk while being under the influence of alcohol has been determined to create such a risk. 

(v) While such person has a blood concentration of any of the following substances at a level that is equal to or greater than: (a) 0.02 milligrams of cocaine per liter of blood, (b) 0.1 milligrams of methamphetamine [CRISTAL METH] per liter of blood, (c) 0.01 milligrams of phencyclidine [PCP OR ANGEL DUST] per liter of blood, or (d) 0.1 milligrams of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine [MDMA OR ECSTASY] per liter of blood.