New West Virginia law strengthens DUI rules

| 5/23/2008

A new law in West Virginia authorizes harsher penalties against drivers who get behind the wheel after drinking too much.

Gov. Joe Manchin recently signed a bill into law that authorizes a new law regarding aggravated driving under the influence. It becomes effective June 8 and applies to motorists with a blood alcohol content reading of at least 0.15 percent. The legal limit in West Virginia is 0.08 percent.

People found in violation of the aggravated driving rule would face jail terms between two days and six months.

Another provision allows first-time offenders who register a BAC lower than 0.15 to have their driving privileges reinstated in 15 days. Until now, violators only could have their licenses reinstated after 30 days.

The sole requirement for the quicker reinstatement is the installment of an interlock device. Violators with readings of at least 0.15 percent would be required to have the device installed.

Interlocks are hooked up to the ignition of vehicles. Once such a device is installed, a driver must blow into a mouthpiece, which measures the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath. If the driver blows clean, the car will then start; if not, it won’t budge.

In addition, the devices often require drivers to re-blow into the machine after a designated period of time, to ensure that they have not convinced someone else to blow into the mouthpiece for them, or that they haven’t been drinking since getting behind the wheel.

The new law also scraps the state’s mandatory, 24-hour jail terms for first-time offenders with BAC readings lower than 0.15.

Supporters said counties need relief from high costs of keeping people in the regional jail system. Problems arise when DUI offenders are initially booked a few hours before appearing in front of a magistrate. They then can be sent back to jail to finish the current mandatory 24-hour jail term.

County officials complain this scenario puts them on the hook for two days of jail costs.

To view other legislative activities of interest for West Virginia in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor