West Virginia lawmakers work on changes to DUI law

| 1/2/2008

A special legislative panel in West Virginia voted to toughen state law and the way it punishes drivers who get behind the wheel after drinking too much.

The Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary agreed to pursue a new aggravated driving under the influence law for motorists with a blood alcohol content reading of at least 0.15 percent. The legal limit in West Virginia is 0.08 percent.

Another provision would scrap mandatory, 24-hour jail terms for first-time offenders with BAC readings lower than 0.15.

Supporters say 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 that this scenario puts them on the hook for two days of jail costs.

West Virginia is one of a dozen states that treat any reading of 0.08 or higher the same, The Register-Herald newspaper reported. If the aggravated DUI provision becomes law, offenders would face fines between $200 and $1,000. Jail terms could range from two days to six months.

A separate provision would abbreviate the time driver’s licenses are suspended if the drivers voluntarily have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicles. The rule would apply to all drivers, including first-time offenders, found to be intoxicated while at the wheel.

Interlocks are hooked up to vehicles’ ignitions. 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 in 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 proposal could draw consideration during the regular session that begins Jan. 9.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor