Metro Reports Pandemic Ridership High for Fourth of July — “The transit agency said it saw a pandemic-record high ridership during the [Independence Day] holiday. As of 10 p.m. Sunday, about 174,000 trips were taken on the rail system, Metro tweeted Sunday night. That’s the highest single-day ridership since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.” [WTOP]
Man Arrested for Attempted Robbery in Reston — “Officers from the Reston District Station of the Fairfax County Police arrested a Centreville man Thursday [July 1] in connection with an attempted robbery in Reston…The victim returned to his car, which was parked near the intersection of Clubhouse Road and North Shore Drive around 4:53 a.m., when he found a man rummaging around inside it, police say.” [Patch]
Leidos Offers Employees a Year’s Pay to Get COVID-19 Vaccine — In an effort to counter slowing inoculation rates, the Reston-based information technology contractor has set aside $1 million to give 10 randomly selected employees a year’s worth of pay if they get the COVID-19 vaccine. Eight Leidos workers have died from the virus, including one D.C. area resident. [The Washington Post]
Virginia’s Death Row Officially Vacant — “With the death penalty formally abolished in Virginia as of this week, death row is now officially vacant, according to prison officials. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney said the two remaining prisoners facing death sentences were moved off death row after the legislation was signed earlier this year.” [Virginia Mercury]
New Laws Take Effect in Virginia — A host of new laws passed by the General Assembly take effect today (Thursday), including the legalization of simple marijuana possession, the abolition of the death penalty, and a requirement that drivers change lanes when passing bicyclists. The fine for littering is now $500, up from $250, and it is now illegal to intentionally release a balloon outside. [Patch]
Police Community Forum Tonight — The Fairfax County Police Department’s Reston District Station will hold a virtual community information forum at 7 p.m. today that will include discussion of trends, upcoming events, and officer and case highlights from the past month. Send questions to [email protected] [RA/Twitter]
Republican Challenger to Ken Plum Will Be on Ballot — Veteran Matt Lang will officially appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot as the Republican candidate for the 36th House District, which includes Reston and is currently represented by Del. Ken Plum. The State Board of Elections approved his candidacy upon appeal yesterday (Wednesday) after his application was initially blocked by a late filing certification. [Virginia Public Access Project]
Changes to Permitted Agritourism Activities Approved — “Fairfax County supervisors, despite objections from some local residents and environmental groups, on June 22 approved new ‘agritourism’ rules that will allow certain by-right commercial operations in agricultural settings…Allowable activities include farm tours, harvest-your-own activities, seasonal festivals and attractions, events, hiking, horseback riding and other activities, historical and cultural endeavors.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is working its way toward letting public workers collectively bargain in the wake of a statewide change in 2020 to lift a decades-old restriction.
A board’s personnel committee met yesterday (Tuesday) to discuss a draft ordinance that would let Fairfax County workers make union contracts with the county government, giving them the power to negotiate pay and other benefits.
“I think we’re moving in a good direction,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said after sharing concerns that the proposed ordinance might exempt too many employees from collective bargaining.
While managers, supervisors, volunteers, and other workers are slated to be excluded under the draft ordinance, the board is looking at where temporary workers such as summer lifeguards and seasonal park workers as well as non-merit employees should fall.
The proposed ordinance would serve as the framework for what can and can’t be done through collective bargaining. Once approved, it would allow workers to vote to form a bargaining unit, and employees who don’t want to be involved wouldn’t have to pay dues but could still receive the benefits of the change, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said.
The draft discussed Tuesday calls for collective bargaining agreements that would last three years or longer, with separate units for general government employees, police, and fire and emergency services. It also bans strikes and spells out numerous other issues.
The county’s ordinance would be separate from Fairfax County Public Schools, which has over 24,000 employees.
Gross, who chairs the personnel and reorganization committee that’s overseeing the development of the draft, said she expects the board will pass an ordinance, which could happen this year.
SEIU Virginia 512, a union that already includes over 2,000 members in Fairfax County from dues-paying maintenance workers and nurses to librarians and social workers, welcomed the board’s overall support.
But union president David Broder says the ordinance still falls short in several areas. Namely, he says it “artificially narrows” the scope of bargaining, excludes working conditions among the topics that can be negotiated, and could potentially leave thousands of workers out of the collective bargaining process.
“We’ve learned during the pandemic…that being able to bargain over working conditions is critical,” Broder said, noting the importance of safe and clean work sites, personal protective equipment availability, and scheduling.
Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk shared concerns about working conditions for public works and sanitation workers, expressing support for change.
Collective bargaining agreements could involve some 10,000 workers, Gross told Reston Now, and the board is gathering more information on non-merit employees to help with its determinations.
“We have one opportunity to get this right, which is why we’re taking a little extra time to work on the ordinance,” Gross said.
The General Assembly and governor approved legislation last year that gave localities the authority to develop ordinances for recognizing labor unions and permitting collective bargaining. That measure took effect on May 1.
The personnel committee will meet again on July 20, and the board expects to have a public hearing in October.
If you’re passing a cyclist or group of riders in a vehicle, you’ll soon have to change lanes a lot more.
A new law going into effect July 1 will require drivers to switch lanes if they can’t maintain three feet of distance when passing cyclists.
The Fairfax County Police Department says this means motorists may have to cross double yellow lines, imploring people to “share the road.” Police told Reston Now that they hope people will abide by the new legislation and help keep everyone safe on roadways.
“I think it’s going to be huge in the long run,” Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright said Monday while stopping during a bicycle ride on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. He acknowledged that the change may require some education.
Wright says the new law means that vehicles will generally need to shift lanes, because lanes in the state are typically 11 or 12 feet wide.
“In effect, almost every lane in Virginia will require a motorist to safely pass,” he said.
The state law was adopted in February after General Assembly legislators removed a provision that would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs like a yield sign.
Some states, including Delaware, allow the so-called “Idaho stop” for bicycle riders. Like Virginia, Washington, D.C., considered the stop-as-yield measure but also declined to adopt it.
The new law also ends a requirement for cyclists to file into a single lane when being passed.
Tensions between cyclists and drivers played out on the county police department’s Facebook post about the issue. Several people noted cyclists should obey traffic laws, too.
Wright says those online arguments between cyclists and drivers are similar to honking as well as dangerous behaviors on the road.
“There’s so much animosity, and it’s aggressive,” Wright said.
Some people on social media questioned whether double yellow lines should ever be crossed.
Current law already allows drivers to cross double yellow lines when passing others, including cyclists, skateboarders, and scooters. Another provision involves giving enough distance to mopeds, animal-drawn vehicles, and more when drivers pass them.
Pedestrian and bicycle safety is a persistent concern in Fairfax County, where seven pedestrians and two cyclists have died in car crashes so far this year. Whether these new laws help alleviate those issues remains to be seen.
The Town of Herndon is moving ahead with plans to explore a potential ordinance that would prohibit firearms on town property.
The September dates were chosen after council members decided it would draw more participants compared to the summer, when many residents might be away on vacation.
Councilmember Signe Friedrichs said that holding two public hearings would encourage a more thoughtful discussion on the subject.
“I would really like people to think through more than just saying, ‘Well, it’s an ordinance and it’s opposed to guns, and therefore I want to pass it, ‘ as opposed to ‘It’s an ordinance and it’s damaging my right to carry my weapon, so I’m against it,'” she said.
The ordinance was first brought to council for general discussion on Sept. 15, 2020 and subsequently returned for further review on April 6. The council deferred action on April 13 to allow for additional consideration of the fiscal impacts of adopting a gun ordinance.
Lesa Yeatts, the Herndon town attorney, advised the council that “it would be prudent” to start additional discussions about the ordinance as it existed in April.
If passed as currently written, the ordinance would prohibit the “possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof” on town property. There would be a few exceptions for law enforcement personnel and educational activities, such as historical reenactments.
“Will this solve and prevent everything? No. But it’s a step to a more secure town in terms of our facilities, in terms of our parks, and just the community in general,” Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila said.
The council agreed to move forward with the discussion of the ordinance, but since the existing language largely replicates the ban passed by Fairfax County, they expressed a desire to get a clearer understanding of the legal implications and how much room there would be for tweaks based on feedback from the public hearings.
“I think when we just flatly say that ‘I’m for guns’ or ‘I’m against guns,’ then we’re missing something important, which is nuance,” Friedrichs said.
Photo via Thomas Def/Unsplash
(Updated at 4 p.m.) Starting July 1, adults 21 and older in Virginia can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
Ahead of that date, local police departments say they are preparing their officers, while advocates say the bill needs serious retooling to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system and help reverse the harm done to Black and brown communities after decades of unequal enforcement.
“We still have time to fix many of these things,” Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the racial justice and cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Justice, said. “Between now and then, we have elections. We have to talk to people about how they’re going to take this legalization forward while centering equity. This is not over.”
The Virginia General Assembly passed a law earlier this month accelerating the legalization of weed from July 2024 to this coming summer. The law will be reenacted in 2024, when recreational, commercial sales are legalized.
Through June 30, the possession of less than one ounce of cannabis will remain “decriminalized” — that is, it is penalized with a fine, but the incident does not show up on a person’s criminal record.
The new law legalizing cannibis essentially permits those 21 and older to use marijuana inside their homes, and possibly in their backyards; grow up to four plants; and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. The plant must be in a manufacturer’s container for someone to drive with it in the car legally.
Giving cannabis to someone underage is considered a felony, while students younger than 21 who are found in possession of the plant on school grounds would be charged with a misdemeanor. A clause requires court-ordered drug treatment services for individuals 20 and under found with the plant.
People in jail for marijuana-related crimes will remain there, Virginia Mercury reports.
Here are the top areas of interest and concern for police officers, people in the criminal justice system and advocates.
Although marijuana-related arrests have been trending down recently, Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin says that one potential consequence of marijuana legalization is more people driving while stoned.
“There are going to be obviously growing pains,” Gavin said. “My biggest concern, in terms of public safety, is the possible increase of driving under the influence.”
According to data provided to Tysons Reporter by the police departments, cannabis arrests appear to be trending down slightly in both Fairfax County and Falls Church City. A chart supplied by Fairfax County Police Department shows arrest rates peaking in 2018 before dropping off dramatically in 2020.
The Falls Church City Police Department reported a similar pattern. It made 61 and 63 arrests in 2018 and 2019, respectively, followed by 17 arrests in 2020 and none so far this year.
Herndon Police Department spokesperson Lisa Herndon said the town had about 125 marijuana-related arrests from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 13, 2020.
Gavin attributed the recent drop-off in arrests to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a policy change introduced by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, who ceased prosecuting simple marijuana possession cases against adults when he took office on Jan. 2, 2020.
Descano told Tysons Reporter, Reston Now’s affiliate site, that he stopped prosecuting marijuana cases because it would be the right approach for community safety and racial equity. His office estimates that more than 1,000 cases have since been dismissed.
“While the opposition to this decision was intense at the time — so much so that we planned to create a bail fund in case our attorneys were held in contempt of court and jailed — I am pleased that other jurisdictions followed suit and marijuana has now been legalized across the Commonwealth,” Descano said. Read More
The Herndon Town Council is currently considering an ordinance that would largely ban firearms on town property.
Specifically, the proposed measure would “prohibit the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof on Town property,” including public parks, community centers, and public streets during permitted events.
The ordinance includes some exceptions for law enforcement, security, and active-duty military personnel who are engaged in official duties. Unloaded firearms could also be allowed for educational activities or displays.
However, Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem announced on Tuesday (April 13) that a decision on the ordinance has been deferred until the town can hold a public hearing on the issue and staff can provide more information on the potential fiscal impacts of a ban.
Herndon Town Attorney Lesa Yeatts wrote in a staff report that possible budgetary considerations could include the costs of posting and removing signage required by Virginia law and enhancements to security measures like guards and metal detectors.
Town Manager Bill Ashton is not scheduled to report back to the town council until May 6, but in the meantime, what do you think of the proposal? Should people be allowed to have guns on town property?
Photo via Jeremy Alford/Unsplash
This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
During its Reconvened Session last week the General Assembly approved an amendment proposed by Governor Ralph Northam that decriminalizes the possession by adults of a small amount of marijuana effective July 1, 2021. Virginia joins 26 other states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. This generally means certain small, personal-consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime (or are a lowest misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time). Based on the new law in Virginia, adults can grow up to four plants, gift it in private, or have an ounce or less in their possession if they are over 21. Selling, buying, or driving with marijuana remains illegal at this time. People given a summons for possession for an amount beyond the minimum will be issued a summons for marijuana possession for which they have the option of prepaying the civil penalty of $25 instead of going to court.
I voted for the Governor’s amendments as necessary to reflect the realities of marijuana possession and use. The people of Virginia will be no less safe as a result of these changes. Our jails will be less full of persons who use marijuana recreationally for themselves, and persons who do so will not be labeled a criminal. Previously marijuana possession was a criminal offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine. Public opinion polls have shown that 83 percent of Virginians support lowering criminal possession to a fine and 61 percent support ending prohibition all together.
I also supported the changes in laws related to the use of medical cannabis in 2017. The law enacted at that time permitted patients suffering from intractable epilepsy to use some types of cannabis oil with a doctor’s certification. Subsequent amendments to that law allow patients with any condition to receive recommendations to use and purchase cannabis preparations with no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose. Extracts sold under the provisions of this law must be produced by processors approved by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. Thirty-three other states have similar laws related to the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Retail sales of marijuana will not begin until January 1, 2024. Many complex issues remain to be resolved as to who will be certified to sell the product, how an illicit market will be controlled, and what the limitations on purchasing will be. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a 175-page report in November 2020, entitled “Key Considerations for Marijuana Legalization” that sets direction with options as to how the state should proceed with full legalization. There is a determination on the part of most legislators that the current system for labeling persons criminal and putting them in jail is not appropriate and that total reform is needed. Minority communities have been particularly hard hit by the current system. Much work remains to be done, but I believe Virginia is taking a responsible route to fixing the laws about weed.
The Herndon Town Council has deferred action on an ordinance that would prohibit firearms on town property.
Mayor Sheila Olem announced Tuesday (April 13) at the council’s meeting that it will hold off on any action with the firearm ordinance until Town Manager Bill Ashton can come back with additional information on the subject.
Olem added the council would also like to hold an advertised public hearing on the matter so it “can gather input from our residents.”
“Following last week’s work session discussion on the item, the council’s consensus was that we should give the town manager time to analyze the budgetary impacts of this,” Olem said.
Ashton will return to the council on May 6 to present his findings during a strategic planning session.
The proposed ordinance follows initial discussions the council had in September after Virginia adopted legislation allowing localities to institute ordinances to prohibit firearms on their public property.
The ordinance, if passed, would prohibit the “possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof” on town property.
The town property listed in Herndon’s proposed ordinance includes any building used or owned by the town, or any authority or local government entity controlled by the town for governmental purposes. The ordinance extends to public parks and recreation or community centers owned or operated by the town.
The ordinance would not to apply military personnel when acting within their official capacity, sworn or retired law enforcement officers, on duty private security hired by the town, and for educational programs or historical reenactments conducted or permitted by the town and wherein the firearms used are not loaded.
A violation of this ordinance would constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Photo via Thomas Def/Unsplash
The Fairfax County Police Department has issued “over 415 tickets” related to violations of the hands-free law since the new year.
The Herndon Police Department tells Reston Now that its officers initially issued warnings but did not ticket motorists for violating the law, which prohibits people from holding a handheld communications device while driving a moving vehicle on Virginia highways.
“The first two months of 2021 saw our patrol officers issuing warnings to motorists that were observed in violation of the law,” a Herndon Police spokesperson wrote. “Our goal was to inform as many people as possible of the change in laws.”
However, Herndon Police began issuing citations on March 1, and since then, they have written 43 citations for motorists violating the law.
The state law notes that violations are punishable by a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 for any subsequent offenses.
The law was technically enacted on July 1, 2020, but was not effective until six months later so that a public messaging campaign could be established and law enforcement could be trained on how to enforce it.
There are few notable expectations to the rule, including emergency vehicle operators performing official duties, drivers who are lawfully parked, and someone using their phone to report an emergency.
While it is illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving, it remains legal to talk on a phone provided it is not in the driver’s hand.
According to Drive Smart Virginia, nearly 15% of all fatal crashes in 2020 involved distracted driving.
Preliminary Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data indicates that Fairfax County had the most fatalities related to distracted driving in the state last year, as well as the most injuries resulting from distracted driving.
Photo via Alexandre Boucher/Unsplash
The Herndon Town Council is considering adopting a new law that would prohibit the possession of firearms and ammunition on town property.
At its work session tomorrow (April 6), the town council will discuss creating a law that would prohibit “the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof on Town property, in Town buildings or on certain other areas owned by the Town.”
The council could vote to adopt the ordinance as written, defer consideration until budgetary impacts are determined, or advertise a public hearing to get public input.
This is the second time that the council has discussed a firearms ban as part of a work session after an initial conversation took place in September in response to Virginia General Assembly legislation that took effect last summer.
The state bill permitted localities to adopt their own ordinances prohibiting firearms in public facilities.
Herndon is a bit behind other local jurisdictions in considering a ban.
Arlington County and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church have already instituted a ban on firearms on locality-owned property, including courthouses, public parks, and community centers, and at public events. Fairfax County also adopted a similar ordinance for all county-owned spaces in September.
The staff report notes that Herndon’s ordinance is similar to the county’s, but “tailored to Herndon.”
The proposed ordinance calls for “increased security measures” like metal detectors to prevent access to these areas while possessing a firearm. It also mandates that a written notice about the ordinance be posted at entrances to the areas where the prohibition is in effect.
The staff report says that, so far, there has been no opportunity to determine the fiscal impacts of the law, including installation of metal detectors and posting signage.
The ordinance would have some exemptions. For instance, law enforcement, security personnel hired by the town or the state, active duty military personnel would be allowed to have firearms on public property, and educational activities like static displays and historical reenactments would be permitted.
The ordinance could also potentially allow for lawfully possessed firearms stored in a locked, private motor vehicle that is lawfully parked on town property or a public street.
A violation of the ordinance would be punishable as a class one misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Back in September, nearly all of Herndon’s councilmembers reached a consensus that more public input was needed, along with further research into how the ban was being enacted in neighboring localities.
Several councilmembers noted that a ban on firearms on town-owned property would need to clearly communicate that all guns are not going to be confiscated individual owners. Councilmembers also raised concerns about whether the ban would hold up legally, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of individual gun owners in the past.
However, more recently, the Supreme Court has declined to rule on such cases.
Photo via Thomas Def/Unsplash
Reston Town Center manager Boston Properties and security contractor MaxSent may have to face trial over a women’s 2018 lawsuit alleging she tripped, fell, and got hurt walking from the parking garage to the shopping center.
Camille Sedar fell down a short flight of stairs, landed face first, and lost consciousness. She was later diagnosed to have a concussion. The suit alleges she tripped due to loose, uneven bricks and “sagging” caulk at the top of the stairs causing the fall.
Sedar says she doesn’t remember the fall. Though witnesses didn’t actually see her fall, they saw her on the ground, hurt, and called for help, according to court documents.
The appeal centered on if there was enough “material” facts and evidence that lack of upkeep and maintenance could have caused the loose bricks and her fall.
Sedar provided photographic evidence, scuffed shoes, and an expert engineer witness saying large gaps due to loose bricks create tripping hazards.
The defense argued that it wasn’t on their clients to fix small “sidewalk irregularities,” which are visible to all and known to be avoided. Plus, it was “mere speculation” that these irregularities caused her fall in the first place.
However, a loose brick may not be immediately obvious and visible, argued the plaintiff, and therefore created a hazard.
Sedar also offered evidence that the shopping owners and property manager had knowledge of the hazard.
The court agreed there was enough evidence that the loose brick and sagging caulk could have created a tripping hazard and, therefore, the case could go to trial.
“We make no comment on which parties’ evidence is more persuasive. We only ask whether Sedar has provided ‘evidence beyond speculation’ that provides a sufficient basis for a reasonable inference of causation,” reads the court’s opinion. “We conclude that she has.”
Reston Now has reached out to each side’s attorneys but have yet to hear back as of publication.
Photo by R. Dawson/Flickr
In 2020, a shocking 32 people were hit by vehicles and killed while walking in the Richmond area. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles says this is the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the last decade.
The rate of pedestrian deaths has been growing across the country. In the first half of 2020, there was a 20% rise in pedestrian fatalities. Almost 3,000 people were killed by drivers.
Problems with dangerous driving have been on the rise, including speeding and distracted driving. When combined with more people escaping their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the chance for accidents skyrocketed.
Changing Dangerous Driving Behaviors
Richmond officials are determined to change the risky driving behavior they have been seeing more of recently. Last year, a study was launched that they hope will help form new policy and traffic ordinances.
New bills have been passed by state lawmakers, too, to bring harsher penalties to drivers who harm or kill pedestrians and to lower the chances of these accidents. These include banning drivers from using devices like cell phones and allowing speed limits to be as low as 15 mph in some areas.
Richmond has also been working on its Vision Zero initiative, focused on protecting pedestrians and bicyclists from vehicle traffic. The plan is being coordinated by Mike Sawyer, a transportation engineer, with the goal of having zero pedestrian injuries and deaths every year.
Vision Zero originated in Sweden in the 1990s and went on to help lower the number of pedestrian deaths across Europe. The Vision Zero Network is now helping a number of U.S. cities protect their pedestrians by bringing great minds together to overcome common road safety challenges.
Making Strides to Protect Pedestrians
Richmond is hard at work trying to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe. The City Council recently passed a resolution to install speed cameras around school zones. The city has also created new crosswalks, crosswalk signals, and bike lanes in dangerous school areas to protect students.
Across the city, 450 crosswalks have been installed as part of Vision Zero. 20 miles of new bike lanes have also been installed, along with new traffic beacons. Many of the more dangerous intersections will also get new signs warning drivers to stop for pedestrians.
“Other cities with high rates of pedestrian injuries and fatalities are keeping their eyes on Richmond’s approach to road safety, so this has the potential to make a real impact in protecting pedestrians,” says Lauren Carroll of Commonwealth Law Group.
There are many areas, including suburban and rural locations, that are looking to further protect pedestrians and cyclists in their cities and towns.
Overcoming Road Safety Challenges
The city of Richmond realizes that new signs, crosswalks, and bike lanes can only accomplish so much. Finding a way to end dangerous, risky driving behaviors in the city will continue to be a major battle.
The city is finding it challenging to engineer safer streets without causing more hazards and distractions for drivers. The people working behind the scenes at Vision Zero, along with the city of Richmond, know that pedestrian fatalities are not inevitable and can be prevented. As improvements to local infrastructure continue to be made, Richmond will hopefully begin to see a positive impact on pedestrian safety.
In the United States, drunk driving has been an ongoing issue costing billions annually, and more importantly, taking the lives of roughly 10,000 people every year.
Drunk driving laws have made it illegal at a national level to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent. For drivers under the legal age, “zero tolerance” laws have been implemented, which makes driving with any detectable level of alcohol illegal and punishable by law. Many states such as Virginia have taken further steps to discourage drunk driving by creating more intense penalties.
Virginia Drunk Driving Statistics
As reported by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, one in six Virginia motorists may be involved in an alcohol-related car accident throughout their life. The Virginia DMV also reported that 34 percent of all traffic fatalities were related to driving under the influence of alcohol. These statistics reflect 819 total traffic fatalities in 2018, 278 of which died in alcohol-related car incidents.
In 2018, 19,790 people were convicted with a DUI, resulting in stricter penalties to encourage responsible driving. Amongst these penalties were more extended jail times and increased fines. A DUI in Virginia tends to cost around $5,000 and $20,000. Although Virginia has historically strict DUI legislation, there has been a recent bill passed which eliminates mandatory minimum sentencing, causing many residents to be fearful for the future of road safety in Virginia.
Senate Bill 1443
Senate Bill 1443 was proposed in 2020 to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and modify sentences for felony offenses, including DUI charges. This bill seems to be a part of a much more significant criminal justice reform, but many Virginians believe the legislation is “missing the mark.” This bill is set to eliminate Virginia’s enhanced jail penalties for grievous repeat offenders and “high-risk” impaired drivers, putting them back on the streets with a slap on the wrist and endangering local drivers.
While some Virginians believe the mandatory minimum sentencing is harsh and unnecessary, a large community of residents are fighting back to keep enforcing these stricter laws and fees. According to a letter to the editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, these mandatory minimum jail sentences are put into place to penalize the most grievous offenders of the law in Virginia. These laws are used to target repeated convicts of drunk driving or those pulled over with a blood alcohol concentration level two or more times over the state’s legal limit.
Those in favor of strict DUI laws argue that both repeat convicts of DUIs and drivers with extremely high blood alcohol content make up most drunk drivers resulting in fatalities during car accidents. Both repeat and “high BAC” motorists are labeled as “high risk” drunk drivers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with data indicating that 67 percent of drunk driving fatalities in the U.S. involve at least one driver with a BAC level at .15 or higher.
The Uncertain Future with Limited DUI Legislation
On February 5th, 2021, Senate Bill 1443 passed with a 21-17 vote, leaving many Virginians unsure of the future of traffic safety and DUI penalties in their state. To many, this bill seemed to pass at the most frightening time when drunk driving deaths and impaired driving have increased with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some even argue that now is the time to push for even stricter legislation rather than lessen DUI laws. Governor Ralph Northam announced early in January that every 33 hours, someone is killed by a drunk driving accident. Those who are victims of drunk driving incidents, reach out to Fairfax DUI lawyers for legal guidance and representation.
Driving under the influence of alcohol can be extremely dangerous for anyone on the road. The negative impacts of drunk driving are numerous, including impaired judgment, slowed reaction times, and of course, car accidents. This article dives into some of the drunk driving statistics both in Virginia and in the US, as well as some of the effects of drunk driving and how they can be prevented.
Demographic Overview of Drunk Drivers
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as of 2018 the 21 to 24-year-old age group has the highest number of drunk driving deaths in the US, followed by 25 to 34-year-olds, and drivers aged 15-20. In addition, male drunk driving fatalities comprise 80.4% of total drunk driver fatalities.
“Unfortunately, many young drivers feel invincible when first starting out behind the wheel, and this can lead to very poor decisions.” said Attorney Matthew Wilson of Matthew Wilson Attorney at Law. “It is important for young drivers to be educated on the real dangers of drunk driving in a way that helps them to understand the dangers both to themselves and others.”
Overall, the groups that are most at risk for drunk driving are the younger age groups (as previously mentioned), motorcyclists, and drivers that have previous DUI convictions on their records. According to the state DMV 2018 crash statistics in Virginia, over two-thirds of DUI convictions were found to be male, and the majority of drunk drivers were between the ages of 21 and 40.
Drunk Driving Laws and Their Effects
Across the US, federal traffic laws are in place to prevent drunk driving. The federal level of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) considered to make a driver legally impaired is 0.08 or higher. Any defendant in the US guilty of this can have a federal DUI offense, which is a Class B Misdemeanor. A DUI conviction can involve penalties such as up to 6 months of jail time, up to 5 years of federal probation, a fine of up to $5,000, or mandatory alcohol safety education courses.
DUI penalties can be even more severe for members of the armed services and can vary by state. In Virginia, a law was passed in 2012 that mandates any first-time DUI offender must have installed a Certified Ignition Interlock Device (CIID) in their vehicle before they are permitted to drive again. This is mandatory for at least 6 months without any alcohol violations. With a first time DUI, the person will lose their license for a year; with a second offense, there will be a 3-year driver’s license suspension, and with a third conviction, 20 days in jail if the offense is within 5 years.
In 2020, the DUI penalties became even more severe in Virginia. As an effect of the new law HB1941, the offense of drunk driving that causes impairment to another person will increase from a class 6 felony to a class 4 felony, which means 2-10 years of jail time. The law also makes drunk driving a class 6 felony if it causes serious harm to the person but is not permanently disabling.
Drunk driving is a serious issue that comes with significant repercussions, but can be easily prevented. Younger drivers should be educated on the harmful effects it can have on one’s life before it is too late. An impaired driver has many options that do not include driving themselves, including using popular rideshares like Uber or Lyft, spending the night at a safe place nearby, or creating a clear plan with a designated driver before deciding to drink. Drunk driving is never the right choice.