Virginia Attacks Drunk Driving Head-On — With Dramatic Success
In an area as fraught with tragedy as drunk driving, it’s good to hear some encouraging news. Virginia is reaping the success of a ten-year program to dissuade people from driving under the influence of alcohol.
As the Virginian-Pilot reports it, DUI fatalities have dropped 21 percent since 2005, and crashes related to drinking are down 30 percent overall. Drunk driving in Virginia is becoming an increasingly unpopular pursuit.
Part of this improvement is certainly due to a series of laws passed years ago that stiffened penalties for drunk driving: mandatory jail terms, license suspension, and making refusal of a breath test by a convicted DUI offender a criminal offense. Moreover, Virginia is one of 25 states that require ignition interlocks for all DUI convictions, including first offenses. Ignition interlocks prevent a car from starting if the driver has been drinking.
These toughened laws have caused formerly reckless people to think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking, lest they provoke an increasingly wrathful state.
Legislators have had help from society at large, which has shifted its attitude towards drunk driving from amused toleration in the 1960s to mild disapproval to a strong condemnation that has robbed drunk driving of any appeal it might once have had. Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have been strong advocates for road safety; NHTSA and other governmental and nonprofit agencies have contributed valuable research that helps convince skeptics that impaired driving is incredibly dangerous.
And those organizations have not relaxed their vigilance. Christopher R. Konschak of MADD’s Virginia office notes that, while the state is doing better than it was in 2004, last year 253 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes. “Courts need to do a better job of using the laws that we have worked so hard to get in place,” says Konschak. First offenders usually get a $250 fine and no jail time. If the fine were raised tenfold and a year of jail time added, “it would make others think twice before they drive impaired.”
Thanks to some strong laws put into effect ten years ago, many of Virginia’s drunk drivers felt the consequences of their foolish decision before they had a chance to injure or kill someone. We salute the lawmakers and law enforcement personnel who have helped keep more Virginians alive on the roads.