Virginia Enacts Ignition-Interlock Penalty for First-Time Drunk Drivers

drunk driving

On March 7, 2012, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a new law providing that as of July 1, people convicted in the commonwealth of driving under the influence for the first time will be required to install ignition-interlock devices on their cars as a condition of regaining driving privileges. The device will be required during the six-month restricted license period that follows a first DUI conviction.

Under existing law, ignition interlocks are only required for repeat DUI offenders and for those who are caught driving while highly intoxicated - with blood alcohol content levels of 0.15 or higher.

Ignition interlocks are like Breathalyzers on wheels: cell phone-sized equipment installed in vehicles controls whether they will start depending on whether the drivers who blow into the devices pass alcohol breath tests first. The devices also require that drivers take "rolling retests" - on-board breath tests at random while driving. If the test is not passed while the car is moving, the horn will sound repeatedly and the headlights will flash to get the attention of law enforcement.

Virginia law sets the BAC level at which a driver fails an ignition-interlock test at anything above 0.02 percent.

Kurt Erickson of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program is quoted widely in the Virginia press as stating that with this new legislation, Virginia joins only 15 other states that require ignition-interlock devices for all people convicted of drunk driving. These states require the devices regardless of BAC levels - the offender could be barely over the legal limit or twice that amount - or whether the offenders face their first convictions or are habitual drunk drivers with multiple convictions.

Virginia legislators were likely motivated in passing the law by commonwealth statistics. The good news is that according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the annual numbers of both alcohol-related injuries and fatalities significantly decreased in Virginia from 2004 to 2010 (29 and 20 percent, respectively). However, there were still almost 6,000 alcohol-related injuries and almost 300 deaths in 2010.

Understanding The Bill

Safety advocates have been pushing for this type of law in Virginia for several years, citing its likely deterrent effect. The new legislation started with identical bills introduced in the Virginia House and Senate by Delegate Salvatore Iaquinto, R-Virginia Beach, and Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, respectively. Both passed and the governor signed the house bill.

Other significant provisions in the new bill include:

  • On a second or subsequent DUI, the offender must install interlocks in all of his or her motor vehicles.
  • The court may allow a restricted license only for the purpose of driving to and from the interlock installer.
  • To avoid delay, someone accused of DUI may choose to prequalify for a device even before conviction.
  • An offender has 30 days from the court order to install an interlock device to prove the installation, and failure to do so or comply with monitoring and calibration requirements may result in the court revoking restricted driving privileges.

Some opponents of the new law feel it is too hard on first-time offenders and that costs associated with installation will be a hardship for those with lower incomes.

If you are stopped for or charged with DUI in Virginia, whether you are a resident, tourist, high school or college student, driving for work or any other situation, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities and advise you about how to proceed.

Call The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller today to schedule your free consultation with our DUI defense firm.

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