Virginia ignition interlock laws keep more convicted drunken drivers from reoffending

The in-car Breathalyzer system keeps convicted drunken drivers off the roads

ROANOKE, Va. – It's been five years since a Virginia law was put in place requiring all DUI offenders, including first-time offenders, to have the ignition interlock Breathalyzer system installed in their vehicles.

Now we're getting a closer look at the impact those systems are having on convicted drunken drivers in Virginia.

In states where the ignition interlock system is installed for all DUI offenders, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 67 percent drop in repeat DUIs. It's leading to a drop in DUI cases we've seen almost immediately in Roanoke since the law was put in place in July 2012.

Roanoke DUI Arrests:
2012-13: 474 arrests
2013-14: 364 arrests
2014-15: 309 arrests
2015-16: 215 arrests
2016-17: 265 arrests

Scott Leamon, the crime prevention specialist for the Roanoke Police Department, says the increase over the last year is likely due to additional officers that have been patrolling for drivers under the influence. In the last year, the department has assigned two additional officers to patrol the areas and time frames where drunken driving has historically been an issue.

"About 10 years ago, per capita Roanoke was one of the worst places for DUIs in the entire Commonwealth," says Leamon. "Now we see what we can do when we step up enforcement and step up education and have businesses like Uber and Lyft come along as well."

In Virginia, the all-offender law isn't just the ignition interlock system, it also includes alcohol treatment and counseling. The Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) found that by pairing the ignition interlock system with treatment, offenders are 32 percent less likely to be arrested for DUI again after the system was removed than those who were only required to use ignition interlock.

In the five years since the all-offender laws were put in place, we've also seen changes in the ignition interlock that makes the system more reliable, like an in-car camera.