The Virginia Senate approved two major changes in state laws affecting drunk driving yesterday, including a provision for mandatory jail terms beginning with the first offense.
By a 36-to-2 vote, the Senate passed with no debate a bill sponsored by Sen. A. Joe Canada (R-Virginia Beach) that would lower from .15 to .10 the blood-alcohol level at which a driver is automatically considered to be intoxicated.
"Virginia is the most liberal state in the country when it comes to this law," said Canada. He said 44 other states already have a .10 standard for intoxication.
A second bill, introduced by Sen. Daniel W. Bird Jr. (D-Wythe), drew heated debate before passing on a 34-to-4 vote. Bird's bill would set minimum penalties for convictions of drunk driving.
First offenders would face at least 24 hours in jail, a fine of at least $500, and a license suspension of six months. However, first offenders would still be eligible to enter the Alcohol Safety Action Program, which would allow them to keep a restricted license.
Second offenders would go to jail for at least 30 days, pay at least a $1,000 fine, and lose their license for three years. Third and subsequent offenses would be penalized by at least six months in jail, a fine of at least $2,000 and a 10-year license suspension.
Bird said 359 fatal traffic accidents in the state last year were alcohol related.
Sen. William F. Parkerson Jr. (D-Henrico) criticized both bills as representing what he called "IBM justice." He pointed out that they make no provision for "the fact that you're dealing with a human being."