A bill sponsored by Del. Salvatore R. Iaquinto (R-Virginia Beach) that would require everyone convicted of a DUI to have a breath test machine installed in their vehicle has overwhelmingly passed the Virginia House of Delegates. A Senate version of the bill sponsored by A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) has had a rougher time of it, but did pass out of committee and is expected to come up for a floor vote as soon as this week. If either bill ultimately becomes law, everyone convicted of a DUI in Virginia will be required to have an ignition interlock installed in their vehicles and would need to blow a clean breath test in order to drive.
Based on a law adopted in 2004, Virginia already mandates interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders but requiring them for a first time DUI would represent major change in policy. Setting aside how the average virginian might feel about the harsher penalties for first-time DUI recipients, powerful interest groups have arrayed themselves on both sides of the issue. On one side there are aggressive interest groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving which supports harsher penalties nationwide as well as interlock device manufacturers. Smart Start, which sells the breathalyzers employs three lobbyists in Virginia.
On the other side, groups such as the American Beverage Institute. Spokesperson Sara Longwell told Virginia’s Dailypress.com that, “We should keep the resources focused on the hard-core guys… We have people who have six or seven DUIs and are still on the road. This would be turning attention from them to the marginal first-time offenders.” Longwell also pointed out that the interlock devices register alcohol consumption at well below the legal limit, meaning that a driver with a minimal level of alcohol in their system would be prevented from driving even though they do not reach the legal standard in Virginia for impairment.
A broader concern both the use of interlock devices is whether they are an effective tool in preventing repeat offenses. While some studies have shown that for first-time and repeat offenders, breathalyzers can be effective at reduce recidivism rates, other studies suggest that this prevention effect is limited to the duration of time that the device is installed. Following the removal of the interlock device, repeat offender rates remain high and indicate there is minimal long term effect on behavior. To date, only 15 states require interlock installation on a first time DUI offense.