Beginning this summer, Virginia will enact one of the strictest drunk driving penalties in the country. New laws will require the installation of an ignition-interlock device into the vehicles of first-time offenders. This prevents them from starting their vehicles until they breathe into the device.

The new restrictions form part of the continuing, comprehensive effort to crack down on drunk driving in Virginia. The effects of this risky practice are well known: accidents, injuries, permanent disabilities, medical expenses and even fatalities. As a result, the state is sending a stronger-than-ever message to residents: do not drink and drive, not even once.

However, some critics argue that the new ignition-interlock requirements go a little too far.

Virginia law already requires the device for repeat offenders or those with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher at the time of their initial arrest. Like neighboring states Virginia’s threshold for DUI is .08.

When the new law goes into effect in July, it will raise the number of drivers required to use the device to about 18,000, or about four times as many as the current number. Drivers will also be required to pay for the installation of the apparatus themselves. The cost is more than $450 for an installation period of six months.

First-time offenders, as well as repeat offenders, must already pay several costly fees associated with a DUI conviction. The ignition-interlock device itself is also an intended hassle for motorists. In addition to breathing into the device each time they need to start their cars, drivers are also subject to random tests while on the road.

Source: The Washington Post, “Is Va.’s ignition-interlock rule for first-time DUI offenders too tough?” Justin Jouvenal, April 8, 2012.