In 2014, the Commonwealth of Virginia began requiring all first-time DUI offenders to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles, toughening a former law that only required repeat offenders with a 0.15 percent or greater blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to install the devices. Many consider the new law to be too harsh for first-time offenders, especially those with low incomes. If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, it’s important to understand the details of this law, how it might affect you, and how an attorney may be able to help. Tougher DUI laws in Virginia

What Is an Ignition Interlock Device?

Ignition interlock devices require drivers to pass a breath test before the device will unlock the ignition of the car and allow it to start. The devices also require random tests, called rolling tests, while the vehicle is in operation. Additionally, to keep the court aware of the offender’s activities, the ignition interlock device servicer also submits an electronic log every 30 days.

The device itself is an electronic unit (connected to the car’s computer system) with a plastic tube attached, which the offender blows into. The device reads the blood alcohol level in the driver’s breath before the car can start. To promote proper enforcement, some of these devices also have a camera that snaps photos of the person blowing into the tube.

The Previous Law

Virginia already had a reputation for tough DUI laws. Under the old law:

  • Interlock devices were required only for offenders who were convicted on a second, third, or subsequent DUI or found to have a 0.15 percent BAC or higher.
  • An approved driver drove the defendant and the car for interlock device checks every month.
  • The Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) had to approve the interlock installation and restricted license before the defendant could make an appointment to have the device installed.

The Current Law Is Harsher

The new ignition interlock requirement targets all first-time DUI offenders, regardless of their BAC—not just multiple-DUI offenders or those with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher. All first-time offenders must now:

  • Pay approximately $65 to have the device(s) installed
  • Pay roughly $80 per visit (about once a month) to carry the device in each vehicle the offender uses
  • Keep the device(s) installed in the vehicle(s) for at least six months
  • Wait for a judge to issue a restricted license, if eligible, and for that license to become valid—meaning an offender may have to make arrangements for transportation to school, work, and other obligations

The new law is estimated to quadruple the number of offenders required to have the devices installed, which is likely to create a backlog of offenders waiting for installation.

Additionally, first-time offenders are generally still required to pay a fine, attend and pay for mandatory alcohol-education classes, and have their licenses suspended for one year. Offenders who can prove they need their cars for work or school may receive a restricted license allowing them to drive to work or class, but only if they install the required ignition interlock device.

New DUI Consequences May Be Excessive

While some supporters of the new law believe no penalty is too stiff for first-time offenders—and that the ignition interlock devices will reduce DUI traffic fatalities—the new requirements may be unfair because:

  • Wait times for device installation are expected to increase, which will make daily transportation more difficult for first-timers and their families.
  • New laws may drive offenders to go to trial instead of accepting a plea from prosecutors, which means the courts may become strained and under more pressure.
  • High costs associated with the ignition interlock device hurt low-income offenders, especially because they are also responsible for paying over $1,000 in costs after fines, fees for alcohol-education courses, and the nearly $500 for the ignition interlock device monitoring

Now that these new laws are in effect, it is more important than ever to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been accused of driving under the influence.

An Attorney Will Act as Your Advocate

If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence and aren’t sure where to turn, contact the team at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi. Our attorneys provide advice and defense representation to clients facing drunk driving charges, and we can help you too. Start a live online chat on our website today.