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Harsher anti-DUI laws in effect in Virginia

Earlier this year, we reported that Virginia lawmakers were considering new laws that would make it tougher for drunk drivers to get behind the wheel. Now, those new laws intended to crack down on DUI cases have gone into place.

Under a state law that took effect July 1, drivers with just a single drunk driving offense must have an ignition interlock installed on their cars. This device can detect if drivers have been drinking, but it has been criticized by some over questions of how well the devices actually work.

When an interlock is present, the driver must blow into the device for four seconds, followed by four more seconds of humming. The car will start as long as the device does not detect a blood alcohol content that registers 0.02 or higher. The legal driving limit in the state is 0.08.

Ignition interlocks have been in use in Virginia since 1995, but the devices were only required for repeat offenders and for first-time offenders whose blood alcohol content registered almost twice the legal limit. Prior to July 1, nearly 5,000 cars in the state had installed interlocks. The figure could now rise to as high as 18,000, some have estimated.

Legislators hope the devices, along with their price tag, will deter drinking and driving. They cost about $480 for a six-month minimum. A first-time offender with a DUI conviction also must pay a $250 fine, about an additional $200 court in court costs and a $300 fee for intervention classes. One public defender said the penalties were too harsh for a first offense and could cause financial distress for drivers.

Indeed, if one has an interlock installed that does not provide accurate readings, it could impact that person's ability to get to work on time, which could cost that person his or her job. Legislators often don't take these factors into account when passing bills that are politically popular.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, "Breath device required for first-time DUI offenders," Scott Daugherty, June 30, 2012

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