RICHMOND (WRIC)—The Virginia General Assembly is considering a law that would change the punishment for first-time DUI offenders.
Currently, if someone is found guilty of DUI in the Commonwealth and has a blood alcohol level under .15, he or she loses the right to drive altogether, and his or her driver's license becomes suspended for a year.
House Bill 945 would change this, allowing the offender to drive as long as they have an ignition interlock system installed on his or her vehicle.
Jesse Coleman is a convicted drunk driver. His license was suspended for a year, and he supports the proposed law for first-time DUI offenders.
"I think it's a good idea," Coleman said. "The first time I think they should give ‘em a break."
Democratic Delegate Scott Surovell says even though licenses are suspended, most judges allow first-time offenders to drive for certain reasons, like going to work, school or medical appointments.
"They have to blow in the device to start the vehicle, and then they have to blow in the device every few minutes, every 20, 30 minutes," Surovell said. "We've developed this, what some people call a Christmas tree of reasons that the court can authorize somebody to drive."
Surovell says that makes it hard for police to enforce the law.
"They stop them, say, just for speeding. They have to then verify that the person is driving for a purpose that's identified in the green sheet of paper," Surovell said.
Surovell believes ignition interlock systems will be more effective than suspended licenses, and repeat DUI offenses could drop.
"Do you want to make sure somebody doesn't do this again?" Surovell said. "As soon as you put the interlock on somebody's car, you can be assured they're not gonna do it again."
Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA say they haven't yet taken a position on the proposed bill. They're studying it and will likely come out in support or opposition of the bill within the coming days.
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