Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) on Thursday signed into law 25 bills aimed at cracking down on drunk and drugged drivers.
At a ceremony on the South Portico of the state Capitol, Warner called the new laws "an all-out assault on drunk driving" and said they will send a clear message to drivers: "If you drink and drive or use drugs and drive, you are not welcome on Virginia's roads."
The legislation, which was sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House of Delegates and the Senate, is primarily aimed at imposing stiffer penalties for repeat offenders.
One new law will eliminate bail for repeat offenders who have three prior convictions within the past five years. Another will require that people convicted of a second drunken driving offense in five years serve 20 days in jail. A third will provide "zero tolerance" for drunk drivers who operate a vehicle in violation of a restricted license.
Other new laws are aimed at first-time drunk drivers and will increase fines.
Many of the new drunken driving laws enacted by the 2004 General Assembly followed recommendations made by a task force Warner created last year.
Transportation Secretary Whittington W. Clement said Thursday that the number of deaths caused by drunken driving has not declined substantially in the past two decades despite increasingly tougher sanctions.
"Today is a landmark event in Virginia's fight against driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs," Clement said. "This puts Virginia in the forefront in combating one of the nation's most frequently committed violent crimes: drunk driving."
Ellen Engleman Conners, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at the ceremony that efforts to curtail drunken driving, such as those in Virginia, are critical to the federal government's attempts to crack down on the crime.
Engleman Conners said her agency believes the nation can prevent 6,000 to 8,000 deaths each year by getting hard-core drunk drivers off the road. She praised the new Virginia laws, which target people who repeatedly drink too much and then get behind the wheel.
"We are celebrating the signing of 25 bills that send a very clear message that Virginia is serious about drinking and driving," she said.
Before signing the bills, Warner introduced Bob and Kaye Walsh, a Virginia couple whose daughter, Robin, 32, was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver.
Warner said the man convicted in that crash had already been convicted of drunken driving twice in Virginia and once in North Carolina. He said the man was convicted again for drunken driving after he got out of prison for the Virginia accident.
While saying the new laws "can't bring Robin back," Warner pledged to the Walshes that the new legislation would ensure that fewer families face similar tragedies.
The new laws go into effect July 1.