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Virginia's Use of the Ignition Interlock Device to Combat Drunk Driving

Not surprisingly, drunk driving is a significant public safety threat in Virginia. The Virginia Highway Safety Office reports that 274 people died (37 percent of traffic fatalities) in alcohol-related accidents in the commonwealth in 2010.

Virginia law treats those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol harshly and anyone accused must mount a vigorous criminal defense. Depending on the severity of the DUI offense, potential penalties may include:

  • Fines
  • Imprisonment
  • License suspension or revocation
  • Vehicle impoundment, immobilization or forfeiture
  • A criminal record
  • Community service
  • Probation
  • Alcohol education or treatment; and
  • Fees and costs

In addition, Virginia has added the ignition interlock device to its arsenal in the fight against drunk driving.

The ignition interlock is a breath test on wheels. When properly installed in a motor vehicle, it prevents the car from starting if the driver fails a breath test for alcohol as measured by the device. Largely supported by the public, ignition interlocks have been highly effective in preventing offenders from again getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

MADD reports that ignition interlocks have lowered repeat drunk driving convictions by 64 percent on average nationally. Other sources report an even higher drunk driving reduction rate from the device.

Virginia allows both the state court and the Department of Motor Vehicles to order ignition interlock installation under certain circumstances. The following convictions require the court to order an ignition interlock in your vehicles if you are allowed to drive:

  • Second or subsequent DUI in 10 years
  • First DUI if blood alcohol content is .15 or above

The law also provides for situations where the court may allow certain repeat offenders to drive after five years without a DUI conviction with ignition interlocks.

These convictions require the DMV to order an ignition interlock:

  • Second DUI in five years
  • Third or subsequent DUI in 10 years
  • Three separate DUIs in 10 years

The device will test the driver when he or she starts the car and randomly during the vehicle operation. If the driver fails a retest while driving, the car lights will flash and the horn will repeatedly sound. If a driver drives without complying with an order to install a device, he or she may be charged with a misdemeanor or have his or her license suspended or revoked. Tampering with the device by the defendant is a misdemeanor and may result in jail and a fine.

Virginia legislators are apparently considering expanding the use of ignition interlocks. The legislature ordered the Virginia State Crime Commission to study whether for a first time DUI offender it makes sense to allow an unrestricted license regardless of the BAC level so long as an ignition interlock is installed. Recommendations are due to the legislature by the opening day of the 2013 session.

If you are accused of drunk driving in Virginia, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately to advise you and protect your rights. A DUI conviction could have a devastating impact on your life.

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