Virginia: puts drunk drivers on notice — mess with your interlock and you will go to slammer

State Orders 8,500 Convicted Drunk Drivers To Install Device On Their Vehicles

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, July 30, 2013) – The number of drunk drivers ordered to install Ignition Interlock Devices (IID) in their vehicles has nearly doubled in Virginia, as a result of a new law that went into effect  a year ago. The new law commands first-time DUI offenders to place the breathalyzer device in every vehicle they own and operate.

Approximately 8,500 drivers convicted of a DUI were enrolled in Virginia’s ignition interlock program during the first 11-month period after the enactment of the tougher new law, according to data provided by the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP).  That’s a 75 percent increase in ignition interlock usage under the tighter restrictions in Virginia, as of June 30, 2013.

In contrast, only 4,839 DWI or DUI offenders had an IID installed the day before the law was enacted on July 1, 2012, explains the VASAP.  At that time, the law (HB279/SB378) was hailed as one of the toughest laws of its sort in the region. Supporters said Virginia’s much harder-hitting ignition interlock law would quadruple the number of persons forced to use the device. The court-ordered IID system contains an analyzer that measures the offender’s blood alcohol concentration level.

“Advocates fought an uphill battle, like Sisyphus of Greek mythology, for five long years to get this law passed in Virginia,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.  “Remarkably, the law is already showing results less than a year after it was enacted. It throws the book at all drunk drivers, and most notably first-time offenders, who were caught red-handed while driving over the legal limit and subsequently convicted of drunk driving.”

Supporters of the law, including the Virginia-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), AAA Mid-Atlantic, and the relatives who lost loved ones in a drunk-driving crash, say it is keeping potential killers off roadways in Virginia.

All told, 229 persons were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Virginia in 2012, a figure that comprises nearly a third (29.5 percent) of all traffic fatalities in the state that year, reports the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). On top of that, 5,861 people were injured in alcohol-related crashes in Virginia, which accounted for 8.7 percent of all traffic injuries. Virginia recorded 8,777 alcohol-related crashes during 2012, representing 7.1 percent of all traffic crashes in the state.

Currently, Virginia along with 14 other states have mandatory or court-ordered ignition interlock provisions or laws for all DUI or DWI offenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). While all 50 states have some sort of ignition interlock law on their books, Virginia reportedly has one of the toughest on the East Coast, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic. Currently, 8,456 drivers with a DUI conviction are currently enrolled in the IID program.

During 2011, the Maryland General Assembly passed ignition interlock legislation (HB 1276/SB803) aimed at cracking down on drivers with high BAC, repeat offenders, and underage offenders. That year Maryland officials announced the state had the “highest per-capita participation in ignition interlock on the East Coast with numbers that have nearly doubled in the past few years.” An average of 10,645 DUI offenders was enrolled in Maryland’s program, as of April 2013.

Three out of four persons support laws requiring interlocks for drivers convicted for drunk drinking for the first time, a 2011 survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals Virginia’s vehicle ignition interlock law requires drivers with alcohol-related violations to keep the devices in their vehicle for a minimum of six consecutive months, explains Chris Morris at VASAP.

The new law lays it down: tampering or attempting to circumvent an interlock in Virginia is a “Class 1 misdemeanor.”  The alcohol detection system triggers the horn and flashing lights, if the operator’s BAC exceeds 0.02 percent, or if the driver fails to take the test. Virginia’s IID law requires first-time convicted drunk drivers, who are driving on a restricted driver’s license, to operate a vehicle equipped with an IID. “Previously, the requirement for an ignition interlock was imposed as a result of two or more DUI convictions or the first DUI conviction if the offender’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) was 0.15 percent or above,” explain officials with the Virginia DMV. “While 0.08 percent BAC is legally drunk, a driver may be convicted of DUI while driving with a BAC of less than 0.08 percent.”

However, under the current statute that went into effect last July the ignition interlock device prevents a motor vehicle ignition from starting, if a driver’s blood alcohol content exceeds 0.02 percent. The device is also equipped with the ability to perform a rolling retest and to electronically log the blood alcohol content during ignition, attempted ignition and rolling retest.

Those hell-bent on drinking and driving in Virginia are discovering to their chagrin that there is no longer a “get out of jail free card” in the state, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. Earlier this month, starting July 1, 2013, another hard-hitting DUI law (HB1559/SB 1272) went into effect in Virginia. Passed during the 2013 Virginia General Assembly Session, the new law “enhances the penalties for repeat DUI offenders,” supporters say.  The new statute dictates: “any person convicted of a second DUI offense will be sentenced to at least one year in prison and fined $1,000.”