By Brian Hill
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Opponents of drunken driving are applauding the Senate for passing a bill to require even first-time DUI offenders in Virginia to install a device to prevent them from operating their vehicle while intoxicated.
The Senate approved House Bill 279 on a 26-13 vote Wednesday. It would require Virginia drivers to have an ignition interlock installed after their first DUI offense. Currently, the devices are required only after a second or subsequent DUI conviction.
An ignition interlock requires a motorist to blow into a Breathalyzer before starting the car and at random intervals while driving. The car won’t start if the driver’s blood alcohol content is above .02 percent.
“This is the sixth year in which ignition interlock legislation for all DUI offenders has been introduced in Virginia’s General Assembly,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcoholic Program, which campaigns against drunken driving.
“Virginia’s patience with the more than 29,000 drivers in the state annually convicted of driving under the influence has worn thin.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 30,000 DUI offenders were convicted in Virginia in 2010. That’s more than three convictions every hour.
Erickson said ignition interlocks are effective in stopping people from driving while under the influence of alcohol.
“If, before attempting to start their vehicle, the device senses a set amount of alcohol, the vehicle will not start,” Erickson said. “If a running retest senses a set amount of alcohol, the vehicle’s horn will sound, along with its headlights flashing, in order to draw the attention of law enforcement.”
HB 279, sponsored by Delegate Salvatore Iaquinto, R-Virginia Beach, won approval from the House of Delegates on Feb. 9. It would require anyone convicted of DUI to install an ignition interlock. (Under the law, any driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or above is considered intoxicated.)
But some drama surrounded the bill when it moved to the Senate. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee changed the bill so that, for first-time offenders, it applied only if the BAC was 0.12 or higher.
However, the Senate rejected the committee’s modification of the bill and passed the House version.
The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving was glad senators refused to water down HB 279.
“The committee amendment that the Senate rejected on Wednesday would have made the legislation weaker,” said Chris Konschak, manager of the Virginia office of MADD. “The Senate demonstrated that they are committed to eliminating drunk driving in Virginia, and mandatory ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders is a step in that direction.”
“By capturing a combined, more than 80 percent of their vote, Virginia lawmakers have sent to Gov. (Bob) McDonnell legislation deploying proven effective technology to combat drunk driving in the commonwealth,” Erickson said.
How They Voted
Here is how the Senate voted Wednesday on “HB 279 DUI ignition interlock; required on second offense, etc. as a condition of a restricted license.”
Floor: 02/22/12 Senate: Passed Senate (26-Y 13-N)
YEAS – Barker, Black, Blevins, Carrico, Colgan, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, McWaters, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Obenshain, Puckett, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Smith, Vogel, Wagner – 26.
NAYS – Edwards, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Petersen, Puller, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Watkins – 13.
NOT VOTING – Northam – 1.