Virginia’s DUI Punishments Enhanced: Ignition Interlock

In representing victims of drunk drivers, I have seen firsthand the devastating consequences of drinking and driving. As states across the country continue to pass tougher laws to combat this deadly problem, we have fortunately seen a decline in the number of deaths and injuries from drunk driving. However, the statistics are still alarming: nationally, in 2008, an estimated 11,773 people died in alcohol-related traffic collisions 1. In Virginia, 354 people died and 7,000 were injured in 2008 as a result of alcohol-related crashes 2. Experts estimate that about 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lifetime 3.

Given the numbers of deaths and injuries, it is easy to see why the Virginia General Assembly has enacted a series of stricter drunk driving laws over the past several years. This past year was no different.

Effective July 1, 2009, if a driver is convicted of drunk driving for the second time within a 10 year time period, then that driver will be required to install an ignition interlock as a condition to license restoration after the 3 year revocation period. Virginia law was amended to extend the time period from 5 to 10 years. The device must be installed for 6 months. If a driver is caught driving without the ignition interlock device, then they will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor (up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.00) 4.

An ignition interlock is a mechanical device that is installed to a car’s dashboard. It works much like a breathalyzer. A driver must first exhale into the device before being allowed to start the car. If their breath alcohol concentration is more than the programmed alcohol concentration, usually .02 or .04%, then the engine will not start.

Enhanced punishments offered by our criminal justice system are obviously helpful in combating drunk driving. However, it is clear that criminal statutes alone are not enough. The civil justice system also allows jurors to hold drunk drivers accountable for their dangerous, often deadly, choices and to send a loud and clear message that this conduct will not be tolerated. Hopefully, with the criminal and civil justice systems working together, we will significantly deter this scourge and make our roads safer.

1 – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2008 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment, June 2009.

2 – Department of Motor Vehicles, Commonwealth of Virginia)

3 – Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

4 – Virginia Code §18.2-271.1

About the Author: David Williams is a Fredericksburg personal injury attorney for Allen & Allen. His legal career has focused almost exclusively on personal injury law, wrongful death, medical malpractice and products liability cases. He has successfully argued cases before the Virginia Supreme Court.