Virginia DUI Bill Would Raise Penalties for First-Time DUI Offenders

Two similar bills are being considered in the Virginia General Assembly that would increase the penalties associated with first-time driving under the influence (DUI) offenses. One bill is proposed by Delegate Salvatore Iaquinto (R-Virginia Beach) and the other by state Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico). Both require that those convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) reading between 0.08 and 0.15 install an ignition interlock device on their primary vehicle for the six-month period that their driving privileges are restricted.

Similar bills are gaining momentum throughout the country, often backed by advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The opposition to these bills is vocal, however. Opponents argue that the bill is too tough and will burden an already overwhelmed court system and that the device's hefty installation and maintenance fees will disproportionately impact low-income families.

Details Of The Proposed Law

Virginia's current law requires use of an ignition interlock device on the vehicles of repeat offenders convicted with a BAC of 0.15 or higher. If convicted for a first-time DUI, an offender generally receives a $250 penalty and mandatory alcohol education class. There is a fee to take the education class, but there are waivers available for those who cannot afford the cost.

In addition, the current law mandates that an individual's driving privileges be suspended for one year. A judge is given the discretion to allow the person convicted with a DUI to drive to and from work and other limited locations like church, alcohol education classes or a child's school.

Under these proposed bills, judicial discretion would no longer be allowed, and the harsher penalties would not just be for repeat offenders. A Virginia driver convicted of a first-time alcohol-related offense would still be required to install an ignition interlock device in his or her primary vehicle. The driver would be responsible for both installation — which can cost an average of $50 to $200 depending on the difficulty of the installation and the jurisdiction — and maintenance fees, which can easily run between $50 and $100 per month. The bill contains no provisions waiving or reducing these fees for those who cannot afford them.

Even without the additional penalties added by these proposed bills, a DUI conviction can result in harsh fines, jail time and loss of driving privileges and can limit future housing, career and educational opportunities. If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced DUI defense attorney to ensure that your legal rights are protected.