New Virginia Ignition Interlock Law Sparks Debate

Virginia’s recently-passed ignition interlock law has set off a debate between groups battling drunk driving and those that represent offenders about whether the new law goes too far.

An ignition interlock system works by disabling the car if the driver has been drinking. A car with an installed ignition interlock will not start if the driver blows into an attached Breathalyzer and registers a certain level of alcohol on his or her breath. To discourage a friend from taking the test for the driver, the system requires that the driver blow into the device at random times while the vehicle is in motion.

The new law, which takes effect in July, will require virtually all first time DUI offenders-whether they were highly intoxicated or just slightly over the legal limit-to install ignition interlocks in their cars. The former law only required repeat offenders and those with a blood alcohol level above .14 to install ignition interlocks.

As a result of the new law, about four times the number of people will be required to install ignition interlocks. Each offender will have to pay for the installation, which is not cheap-about $480 for a six-month installation.

Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving contend that ignition interlocks reduce repeat offenses. Such groups say that the 274 alcohol-related motorist deaths and 5,500 injures during 2010 warrant the tough measures.

However, public defenders and some lawyers say that the law goes too far. They contend that the new law will encourage more cases to go to trial, taxing an already overburdened court system. In addition, they say that the interlock installation and maintenance fees will disproportionately affect low-income drivers.

Source: “Is Va.’s ignition-interlock rule for first-time DUI offenders too tough?” Justin Jouvenal, The Washington Post, 4/8/12

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