RICHMOND (Capital News Service) — Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed legislation that will require first-time DUI offenders in Virginia to install a Breathalyzer in their vehicle to prevent them from driving while intoxicated.
The governor signed House Bill 279 on Wednesday. As a result, beginning July 1, all Virginians convicted of DUI will have to have an ignition interlock installed in their vehicle. Currently, that requirement applies only to repeat offenders or first-time offenders with blood alcohol content higher than 0.15.
Virginia will "join just 15 other U.S. states in requiring this proven effective technology for all persons convicted of drunk driving," Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, said Thursday. His group campaigns against drunken driving.
Under the legislation, if a court requires the installation of an ignition interlock system, the clerk will file a copy of the order with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. This order would become part of the offender’s restricted driver’s license.
Within 30 days of the court order, DUI offenders would have to provide proof that the ignition interlock system has been installed. The court reserves the right to revoke the offender’s driving privilege for failing to install the system on time or have it properly monitored and calibrated.
"This change now means that everyone who gets convicted of DUI will be required to have the ignition interlock device," said Theo Stamos, commonwealth's attorney for Arlington County and the city of Falls Church. "That definitely makes first-time convictions even more onerous for drivers and is presumably a deterrent to driving drunk at all -- with any BAC, low or high."
She added: "It seems that every year the Legislature has a flurry of amendments to the DUI statute, and this apparently won approval."
Mothers Against Drunk Driving supported the legislation.
“This is lifesaving legislation that MADD has been working to get passed for six years,” said Chris Konschak, manager of the Virginia office of MADD.
People convicted of their first DUI offense are less likely to reoffend if they have to install an ignition interlock on their vehicles, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Opponents of drunken driving predict that the recidivism rates will drop significantly.“Ignition interlocks have the ability to stop a person from driving drunk,” Konschak said. “They also have a deterrent effect on potential drunken drivers.”
The American Beverage Institute lobbied McDonnell to veto the bill, according to the Virginian-Pilot. That trade association argued the punishment was unnecessary and would punish anyone who has had "one sip" over the legal limit of 0.08, the Pilot reports.
Patch Editor Jason Spencer contributed to this report.