No mercy: New DUI laws even tougher
Drunk driving got a little bit more dangerous– for the drunks doing the driving. Second-time offender Bill Gordon, author of the accompanying story, for instance, would now face 10 days in jail, double the sentence he served earlier this year.
On July 1, Virginia enacted 25 new laws in an effort to show no mercy to drinkers who get behind the wheel.
"If you drink and drive in Virginia, we will catch you, and we will convict you," warns Delegate Rob Bell, who carried five of those bills. "The goal is not to lock people up. The goal is to get them off the road."
The laws focus on repeat offenders by stiffening penalties– and even confiscating the vehicle of a DUI driver with three or more offenses in the past 10 years who's the sole owner of the car.
But even first offenders can do time. The single most important bill, thinks Bell, is the "super drunk" law, which makes jail time mandatory– even for first-time offenders– if they have a blood alcohol content, or BAC, of .15, down from .20. Not only is the drinker looking at a minimum of five days in jail, but once he or she's out, the car will be outfitted with an ignition interlock that keeps the car from starting until he performs a breath test.
So how many drinks does it take to make someone a super drunk? Six drinks in an hour on an empty stomach for a 180-pound man, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. "This is not social drinking," says NTSB's Danielle Roeber.
"At .15, you find 'em pretty lit," agrees Bell. And in 2001, 8,200 of those arrested for DUIs in Virginia had blood alcohol levels between .15 and .20.
Other additions to the law books:
- Refusing to take a breath or blood test when under arrest for a second DUI is now a crime, in addition to an automatic year-long license forfeiture with no option for restricted license.
- Offenders on a restricted license with just a .02 hint of alcohol on their breaths lose their licenses for a year.
- Repeat offenders with convictions within five years can forget about bail.
- A DUI goes on your criminal record, instead of just on your driving record.
- And it'll cost more all around, including possible restitution for emergency services and contributions to a Trauma Center Fund.
Police, rescue workers, MADD, AAA, and NTSB join Delegate Rob Bell to celebrate Virginia's new drunk driving laws– "the most rewarding day I've had as a member of the General Assembly," says Bell.
Del. Rob Bell says, "The goal is to get them off the road."
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO