Virginia could qualify next year for $600,000 in federal highway funds to combat drunken driving under a new law signed by President Reagan.
The money will become available to Virginia and other qualifying states in February, provided their laws meet four criteria set by the new law Virginia now appears to meet three of the requirements, a state official says.
Specifically, the new law, signed by the president last week, requires that state laws:
Consider a finding of .10 percent alcohol in a blood sample enough for a person to be automatically declared drunk;
Set a mandatory 90-day license suspension for first offenders caught driving while drunk and a one-year suspension for repeaters;
Set a mandatory 48-hour prison term or require 10 days of community service for second offenders;
And provide for stepped-up enforcement coupled with a public awareness campaign.
According to Vince Burgess, administrator of the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP), Virginia already has a stepped-up public awareness and enforcement effort and a mandatory 48-hour jail term or community service requirement for second offenders. Also, he said, first offenders in Virginia automatically lose their driver's licenses for six months, although the judge has the option of reducing that suspension if the convicted drunk driver enters a VASAP program.
The only law Burgess said Virginia does not have currently is one that automatically declares a certain amount of alcohol in the blood to be proof of intoxication. Burgess said he knows of no plans yet to seek such a change in the state law although he would anticipate action being taken to bring the state in line with the federal law.
The federal funds are intended to entice state legislatures nationwide to adopt stiffer laws and to give added momentum to citizens groups that have been lobbying intensely for these same tough laws.
States that meet the federal standards are eligible for a grant of one-third the amount of money they already receive in federal highway safety dollars.
Maryland, for instance, could qualify next year for $420,000 in federal highway funds under the law if its General Assembly adopts some tough drunken driving measures, including stiff mandatory penalties for drunk drivers.
The District of Columbia, which meets all but one of the criteria, would be eligible for about $140,000. The District now does not meet the standard for the mandatory 48-hour jail term or 10 days of community service for second offenders.