Tougher drunken driving laws in Virginia are likely to put thousands more drivers behind bars each year and require them to install expensive breathalyzer equipment, says the Washington Post. Drivers charged with having a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher will continue to be charged with drunk driving. Those who reach the 0.15 threshold — the new level at which tougher laws kick in — face at least five days of jail and be required to use a dashboard breathalyzer that prevents them from starting their cars if they are legally drunk. Offenders pay more than $450 to rent the “ignition interlock” for six months. Before July 1, when 25 drunken driving laws took effect in Virginia, the only first-time offenders who faced mandatory jail time were those with a blood alcohol level of 0.2 or more. Virginia has some of the nation’s toughest drunken driving laws.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving says that about half the states require jail time for all DUI convictions involving high blood alcohol levels. Only four states, including Virginia, require ignition interlocks for such offenders. Lawmakers estimate that as many as 8,000 additional offenders annually will face those penalties in Virginia. The statutes have some sheriffs wondering how they will house what could be an onslaught of inmates in already crowded facilities. At the Fairfax County jail, a staff shortage has meant that an addition completed in 1999 has yet to open, and more than 1,200 inmates are crammed into space meant for fewer than 900.