Recently proposed legislation in Virginia would impose the installation of inebriation-sensing devices in the vehicles of convicted first-time drunken driving offenders. At present, Virginia law only allows the court to impose the use of ignition interlock devices (IIDs), which are devices that disable a vehicle until the driver's breath registers as virtually alcohol-free, for those on their second DUI offense or who have a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent and above. The legal limit in Virginia is .08 percent.
IIDs are currently used in Virginia under the supervision and discretion of the court to allow convicted DUI offenders to drive with restrictions. In 2008, 294 out of 824 people killed in auto crashes in Virginia were killed in accidents involving alcohol.
While a 2004 study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) found that the devices are indeed effective in preventing DUI reconvictions, coming up with an effective program that ensures the devices actually get installed is another matter. The study found that among the offenders who were ordered to use the devices, many did not ever install them. Yet, one unforeseen discovery was that some of those who had been ordered to install IIDs, but did not, were less likely to be involved in vehicle crashes, even if their DUI recidivism rates remained unchanged. This was attributed to a drop in driving frequency and heightened caution for drivers who wanted to avoid further run-ins with the law.
Meanwhile, Virginia's own administration of its IID program has its flaws.
The Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP), which oversees IID use, does not operate in every Virginia county. This creates an environment where a person convicted of a DUI in one part of the state may be subjected to the use of a disabling device that may only be installed in another county. This can be inconvenient, costly and, as displayed by the California DMV study results, ineffective with regard to requiring and overseeing IID use. In addition, IID installation services are limited by provider options, because VASAP maintains an almost exclusive contract with Draeger Safety Diagnostics. There are a few other installation companies, but again these are difficult to get to for most restricted drivers.
The proposed IID legislation in Virginia is continuing the controversy that surrounds their effectiveness, because many advocates believe the new law is too harsh on those who have been caught driving drunk only once. The Virginia Senate is currently discussing the IID bill in its Courts and Justice Committee.
If you or a loved one is arrested for drunk driving in Virginia, it is important to contact an experienced DUI and criminal defense attorney in your area. If you know you will need to maintain driving privileges, a lawyer can help you weigh your legal options, including the use of ignition interlock devices.