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New law expands Breathalyzer use against drunken drivers

By Joe Beck - jbeck@nvdaily.com

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.


If people would use common sense about drinking and not get behind the wheel, then having a breath machine in your vehicle would not be an issue. If you have the money to go out and drink then get behind the wheel, then you have the money to pay the monthly fee. Stay at home and have a good time.

Sorry to sound pessimistic, but; I don' t think this will do any good. People will always find a way around things like this. It might even cause more problems. Bartenders and waitstaff should be more responsible ( Although that would cut into profits....) for cutting people off whom they know don't have a D.D.. As, for the people who don't go out and drink at their or a friends house....... Needs to be scared of harsher penalties..... Fines and or house arrest.

Bartenders and waitstaff should be more responsible ( Although that would cut into profits....)

As someone who has spent most of my adult life working in the restaurant business, it is not my responsibility to baby sit guests. I don't make profits, I make a living. I can already be sued and/or jailed if some drunk does something stupid. In my humble opinion, it's not my problem, I'm not their mommy.

I agree with Op. It is not their responsibility to babysit anyone drinking. Point blank..regardless of false readings...this is a great idea. I am not a saint. I drank and drove and got caught over 10 years ago. I thank the Lord every day that I did not kill myself or ANYONE else! In fact, glad I got caught. I learned my lesson that day. I was not a big drinker but when out to a club and decided to drive...I agree with this first time offense because some people do not learn or have an addiction. The price/fees are not even a penny compared to a life lost because of drinking and driving.

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