Change in WV DUI Laws Passes Committee

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Panel advances DUI measure with ‘aggravated’ clause

Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Nearly a year in the making, a revision of West Virginia’s drunken driving law that punishes motorists with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher exited the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday with its blessing.

Another key element seeks to provide counties and cities with relief from regional jail costs by eliminating the mandatory 24-hour term that now results in “double bookings” that cost $48.50 per diem.

A third provision lets first-time offenders choose to install Interlocks to see if they have ingested any alcohol — regardless of BAC — and if any is present, the ignition won’t start.

By electing to use Interlocks, first-time offenders can cut in half the current 30-day license suspension.

For anyone blowing a BAC of at least .15, the crime would be considered “aggravated DUI” and Interlocks would be mandatory. So is a jail term running from two days to six months.

“It’s a very important bill in terms of safety, as well as for courts and municipalities,” said Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, the key sponsor.

“For me as a physician, safety is the most important part. We’re into the technology age now. We’ve reached the point where we can’t get any farther down in terms of deaths and injuries. This is a start.”

Donna Hawkins, state director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, spearheaded last year’s interims drive and anchored a special ad hoc committee that worked in tandem with lawmakers.

In 2006, the last year that statistics are available, drunken motorists killed 129 people in West Virginia and were blamed in 2,600 non-fatal injuries.

“This is a historical, landmark piece of legislation for West Virginia,” she said.

“This is going to save lives. It’s going to get offenders back on the road quicker. It’s going to save on regional jail costs. It has a lot of great elements in it.”

While no hard figures were available on potential jail savings, Hawkins pointed out as many as 7,000 first-time offenders are jailed each year.

MADD preferred to see mandatory use of Interlocks for first-time offenders with a BAC of .08 to .149, she said, “but at the same time, there is a great incentive in this legislation for those with low BAC levels.”

Committee counsel advised one panelist, Sen. Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier, that any vehicle used by a convicted drunken driver must be equipped with the Interlock to stay in the program.

And another member, Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, was told that alcohol in a driver’s system will prompt the Interlock to prevent a vehicle from starting.

“There’s really no tolerance,” Foster said.

Hawkins said her group was pleased to see West Virginia move closer to the “aggravated DUI” law. One provision calls for a 45-day license suspension for such offenders, followed by 270 days on the Interlocks.

“Those are the offenders that are true problem drinkers and cause the majority of fatalities in West Virginia,” she added.

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