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Virginia lawmakers considering bill to try to curb DUI

A bill that would require all Virginians found guilty of DUI charges to breathe into a machine before hitting the road is making its way through the state legislature.

Under the proposal, even first-time offenders would need to have a breath test machine installed on their car for at least six months to qualify for a restricted license to get to school or work. If they choose not to use the machine on their cars and possess a restricted license, they face being ticketed for driving without a license.

The state House of Delegates approved the bill by a vote of 87 to 11. The Senate's version made it out of a committee and is due for a vote before the full chamber.

Currently, only drivers who have at least two drunk driving offenses or were convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher must install a breath test machine in their car.

Virginia's legal limit is 0.08. For those who have the device on their cars, it will not start if the breath test measures 0.02 or above after the driver blows into it.

Already, groups are lining up on both sides of the bill. On one side is Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which contends that a first-time offender likely has driven while under the influence of alcohol 87 times before finally being cited. On the opposing side is a beverage trade group that lobbies for Virginia restaurants. An official with that group said that efforts should go into enforcing laws to keep repeat offenders from driving drunk and not targeting first-time violators.

The legal community has weighed in as well, with a DUI prosecutor saying he sees no debate. If enacted, the law would save lives, he said, and that makes it worth supporting. But there are important constitutional protections to be considered. Breath test machines often are not calibrated correctly and may not function. It is not fair to continually punish someone who has already paid his or her debt to society.

Source: Daily Press, "State lawmakers consider requiring breath-test machines for first-time DUIs," Peter Dujardin, Feb. 11, 2012

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Ronald E. Smith, P.C.

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