Drunken-driving foes applaud ignition interlock bills

By Brian Hill
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Opponents of drunken driving are commending the Senate and House for approving bills that will require first-time DUI offenders in Virginia to install a Breathalyzer to prevent them from operating their vehicle while intoxicated.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the Senate’s presiding officer, signed off on Senate Bill 378 this week. House Speaker William J. Howell signed off on a companion measure, House Bill 279, last week. Both bills would require Virginia drivers to have an ignition interlock installed in their vehicle after their first DUI offense

Gov. Bob McDonnell 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.

“Virginia will join just 15 other U.S. states in requiring this proven effective technology for all persons convicted of drunken driving,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which 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.

The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving is grateful that the legislation has been enacted.

“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 re-offend 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.”

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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