From the Register-Herald:
Drunk drivers with .15+ BAC to face harsher penalties June 1
Law also erases mandatory 24-hour lockup, can reduce license suspension to 15 days
By Mannix Porterfield
A year-long movement to punish drunken motorists with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher with harsher penalties and encourage others to use an Interlock before they can start a vehicle becomes law in June.
Gov. Joe Manchin made it official Tuesday by signing SB535, the result of an intense research and lobbying effort by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers in West Virginia.
With West Virginia’s passage of the revised DUI statute, only 11 states are without a law that creates the “aggravated” crime of operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of .15 or higher.
Another feature allows first-time offenders blowing a BAC of less than that level to have their licenses reinstated in 15 days, in lieu of the standard 30-day suspension, provided they install an Interlock, a device that prevents an ignition from starting if alcohol is detected when the driver blows into it.
A third element erases the mandatory 24-hour lockup for those with a BAC under .15, thus saving cities and counties some money on inmates sent to regional jails.
“We are very happy to see this finally come to fruition,” MADD’s state director, Donna Hawkins, said Tuesday after Manchin’s decision was announced.
“Very much so. I think it’s going to save lives. It’s definitely going to be a very positive law for West Virginia.”
In the House of Delegates, all provisions were retained, except for one in the Senate version that called for mandatory BAC tests on suspected drunken drivers in accidents that result in deaths or serious injuries.
Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, a Charleston surgeon and the chief sponsor of the Senate version, had no difficulties accepting this single change in his proposal.
For aggravated DUI, the mandatory penalty calls for two days to six months in jail. Hawkins said her group wanted to focus on this key provision in going after motorists with higher blood alcohol levels since they are responsible for the most carnage.
Two years ago, the most recent one for which statistics are available, drunken drivers caused 129 deaths and were blamed in accidents causing 2,600 non-fatal injuries.
Hawkins said the movement led chiefly by MADD began across the nation about a decade ago to crack down on motorists in an aggravated DUI category.
For most of last year, Hawkins personally led a series of meetings as director of an ad hoc committee of lawmakers, prosecutors, police officials and the Division of Motor Vehicles, working in tandem with a legislative interims panel.
“There were a lot of meetings, a lot of hours,” she said.
MADD was a chief proponent in lowering the BAC from the old standard of .10 to .08 to be declared intoxicated.
Manchin plans to conduct a ceremony April 10 with MADD officials, including its national director, Glynn Birch, and Hawkins.
In advance of the bill formally becoming law, Hawkins plans to tour the state to meet with law enforcement and DMV officials, raising public awareness about it and demonstrating how the Interlocks work.
“We’re going into different communities and talk about this new law and what it’s going to do,” she said.
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