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2020/21 Bring Changes to DUI Laws in Virginia

We all know that drunk driving is dangerous, but how dangerous is it? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that every 50 minutes, one person dies in a drunk driving-related incident. That’s around 30 people a day and almost 11,000 a year.  Drunk driving fatalities account for approximately 28 percent of all traffic fatalities.  Collectively, drunk driving accidents cost about $44 billion a year.  Don’t drink and drive, folks.  

The reasons not to imbibe and drive are well known and obvious, so we offer a positive trend:  Drunk driving fatalities have declined around 20 percent over the past decade and 50 percent since record keeping began in 1982.  There are a number of reasons for the decline, most notably the widespread availability of rideshare options such as Uber and Lyft.  DUI education and awareness of stiff penalties also contribute to the national progress made on this front.  Nevertheless, in Virginia, where we have some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, 19,790 people were convicted of DUI in 2018.  34% of all traffic fatalities in the Commonwealth were alcohol related.  278 people died as a result of someone deciding to get behind the wheel while inebriated.  

If you are convicted of a DUI in Virginia and your driving privileges were suspended or revoked by a court, Virginia law may permit you to petition the court for restricted driving privileges under certain instances. Restricted driving privileges are granted either by a court or by DMV, depending on the nature of your suspension or revocation.  As a condition of a restricted license, Virginia courts prohibit an offender from operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a functioning, certified ignition interlock system for any period of time not to exceed the period of license suspension and not less than six consecutive months without alcohol-related violations of the interlock requirements (no tampering, etc.).  The ignition interlock has to be installed, maintained, and monitored at the driver’s expense.  In addition, convicted offenders are typically required to enter into and successfully complete an alcohol safety action program.  

For offenders enrolled in the alcohol safety action program, prior to July 1, 2020, courts were authorized to grant convicted persons restricted drivers’ licenses falling into one or more of fourteen (14) categories, such as: travel to and from a place of employment; travel to and from an alcohol rehabilitation or safety action program; travel during the hours of such person’s employment if the operation of a motor vehicle is a necessary incident of such employment; travel to and from school if such person is a student; travel for health care services, including medically necessary transportation of an elderly parent; and travel necessary to transport a minor child under the care of such person to and from school, day care, and facilities housing medical service providers.

However, on April 9, 2020, Governor Northam approved Virginia Senate Bill 439 (SB 439) changing the landscape for how an adult offender’s first DUI offense, with a blood alcohol content of less than 0.15, is penalized under the law.  As of July 1, 2020, upon motion of an offender, “the only restriction of a restricted license that the court shall impose is to prohibit the offender from operating a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a functioning, certified ignition interlock system for not less than 12 consecutive months without alcohol-related violations of the interlock requirements.”  The interlock device also must be monitored and calibrated at least every 30 days with proof provided to the Alcohol Safety Action Program. The court can revoke the restricted license for failing to comply with these requirements.

In addition, beginning July 2021, if a person is ineligible to receive a restricted license (i.e., repeat offenders), a court may instead authorize that person to use a remote alcohol monitoring device, refrain from alcohol consumption, and participate in an alcohol safety action program.  Under these conditions, the repeat offender may receive the same restricted license as a first offender with a BAC under .15.  The bill further provides that tampering with a remote alcohol monitoring device is a Class 1 misdemeanor. 

Should you have any questions regarding changes to Virginia DUI law, please feel free to contact Benjamin Dill (bdill@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1272 or Steve Setliff (ssetliff@setlifflaw.com) at 804-377-1261.  

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