By Joe Beck - firstname.lastname@example.org
A change in the state law governing the use of Breathalyzers or other ignition interlock devices will make the devices a much more common sight in the vehicles of anyone convicted of drunken driving.
The widening use of the devices means that first time offenders and those convicted with relatively low blood alcohol levels must now have them installed in all vehicles registered in their names. The law previously limited their use to repeat offenders and those who registered a blood alcohol level of .15 or above.
Installing and maintaining an ignition interlock device can cost those convicted hundreds of dollars. James Parrish, a defense attorney from Manassas who has represented many clients in drunken driving cases in Warren County, said the offender pays a state-approved vendor to install the device and also pays the vendor a monthly fee while it remains in the vehicle.
Parrish said the costs have "changed dramatically" in recent years, although he was unsure of the exact expense. The website for the Northern Virginia Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving quotes an installation fee of $50 plus a $55 a month lease fee and tax.
Parrish said he has already seen the law taking effect in court. Its provisions apply to anyone convicted after July 1, including those who were arrested weeks or months before. As a result, he said, "there was quite a bit of action" among defense attorneys "prior to July 1 to try to get cases scheduled for July heard sooner to avoid that penalty."
Melanie Stokes, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, cited the persistent toll of deaths and injuries related to drunken driving as the reason why her agency, the AAA and the Washington Regional Alcohol Project "were advocates for this."
The state's records show18 injuries in 29-alcohol-related deaths in Warren County last year and 52 alcohol-related accidents leading to 30 injuries and two deaths in Shenandoah County in 2011. The figures for Frederick County were 81 accidents linked to alcohol, 53 injuries and eight deaths in 2011
"We definitely want to prevent drunken driving if possible," Stokes said.
Parrish said the technology isn't foolproof. The devices sometimes register false positive readings, which force defendants to reappear in court and prove they had nothing to drink, despite what the readings say.
"Sometimes they detect odors from mouthwashes and other non-alcoholic drinks," Parrish said of the devices.
Ignition interlock devices like the Breathalyzer work by drivers blowing into them before starting their vehicles and then continuing to do so at various intervals while driving. The devices signal when it is time to give another breath sample, and the driver does so after pulling off to the side of the road, Parrish said. If the new sample registers alcohol present, the vehicle shuts off.