THE YEAR may be young yet, but already we have a 1991 winner of the First Periodic and Maybe Annual Claytie Williams Award, named for the loser of the last race for governor of Texas. It was Mr. Williams who, among other infelicities too numerous to mention, once explained his youthful experiences with prostitutes by noting that "it was a lot different in those days. The houses were the only place you got serviced then." For the award presentation, we take you to Richmond, capital of the Old Dominion and forum this past Monday for senate debate on bills to toughen the state's drunken driving laws. And the winner is: Sen. William E. Fears, Democrat of Accomac, who took his colleagues for a trip down memory-impaired lane, noting his preference for the days when people weren't so uptight about this subject:

"You've taken all the sport out of drinking and driving," said the senator, recalling that during his days as a World War II bomber pilot he found it easier to fly after a few drinks. "Let's not do any more damage than we've already done in this state to people who enjoy a little snort every once in a while."

What about any damage that just might possibly have been done by the motoring snort set when it had a few more for the road? At least the senator's remarks proved so offensive that some senators said they changed their minds and decided to support the pending bill to lower the legal intoxication level for driving. If Sen. Fears believes there's sport in drinking and driving, he should take a look at the sobering statistics on the scoreboard: drunken driving is the most frequently committed violent crime in the country.