Virginia’s recently-passed requirement that all DUI offenders have a breathalyzer ignition interlock installed on their vehicle following a drunk driving conviction has spawned continuous debate over whether the new penalty, which takes effect in July of 2012, goes too far in punishing first time offenders. Current Virginia law only requires that repeat offenders or those convicted on DUI with blood alcohol levels approaching double the legal limit.
With the interlock bill’s passage, Virginia becomes the 16th state to require an interlock device after a first-time DUI offense.
While some studies show the interlocks reduce recidivism (if only during the period they are used) 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. For example, breathalyzer manufacturer, Smart Start employs three lobbyists in Virginia.
The new law is expected to quadruple the number of interlock devices installed in Virginia. Installation of the devices costs several hundred dollars and the interlock device must be purchased from one of four licenses interlock vendors in the state. Once installed, the offender’s vehicle cannot be started unless the driver blows into the device, registering a blood alcohol level lower than the legal minimum.