by Holly Whitman
Virginia is getting serious about improving road conditions throughout the state. In fact, it’s leading the nation in tough laws concerning DUI offenders. It’s also bringing back Move Over Awareness Month and stepping up efforts to get motorists to pay more attention while driving. The hope is that other states will see the effectiveness of these types of programs and put them into action as well.
Drink and Get Locked Out
In 2012, the Virginia General Assembly passed the ignition interlock bill, and it was quickly signed into law by then Gov. Robert McDonnell. Under this law, anyone convicted of a DUI will be forced to install an ignition interlock device in their car. This compels the driver to take an instant breathalyzer reading before they can start the car. If the device finds the driver has a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, then the car won’t start.
Most states have adopted the requirement for an ignition interlock for repeat DUI offenders. What makes the Virginia law different is that it applies to first-time abusers as well. To back up the law, legislators took into account the results of a study provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This found that ignition interlock devices reduced the reoccurrence of drunken driving incidents by upwards of 67 percent. The numbers are even higher with first-time offenders.
Move Over Awareness Month is a public-service campaign that encourages drivers to pay attention to the blue, red and yellow flashing lights associated with police and emergency response vehicles. That means slowing down and pulling over when those lights come into view.
Why is this an issue? According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, around 134 law enforcement personnel were killed while on duty by passing motorists who didn’t heed the flashing lights. As with drunken driving deaths, one is way too many.
“The safety of Virginia’s emergency responders, safety services patrollers, highway maintenance crews and wrecker drivers depends on the actions of every motorist traveling on our highways,” said Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty in a news release. “All we ask is for drivers to avoid distractions, be alert and move over as you pass us and our flashing lights on the side of the road.”
One of the factors that can contribute to those accidents involving emergency responders could be motorists who are dozing off behind the wheel. How bad a problem is this? One in four drivers admit to driving while feeling drowsy. That might not be so bad until you consider that 41 percent of motorists admitted to actually falling asleep at the wheel. That translates into around 130 million people who are a potential road hazard.
When you get behind the wheel of a car, you have an obligation to yourself and everyone else on the road to drive responsibly. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drive if you’re sleepy. Pay attention to the road. This isn’t rocket science, folks.