RICHMOND, Va. — Every second Wednesday in January is a critical time for lawmakers in Virginia.
It’s when the General Assembly convenes at the state capitol in Richmond. It’s a time for lively debate that typically leads to new laws shaping the way Virginians live.
If you go back 39 years to 1984, lawmakers were poised to pass a pivotal bill in the fight against drunk driving.
For years leading up to that session, Virginia laws didn’t handle DUI cases like they do today. Laws were lax, and most drunk driving crashes were just considered accidents at the time.
But in 1984 things changed. That year Virginia lawmakers passed the state’s first per se drunk driving bill.
In other words, drivers with a blood alcohol level of .15% or higher (later changed to .08%) were automatically charged and considered guilty of DUI. No other proof was needed.
Nearly four decades later, legislators are in a similar situation with driving reform.
In 2023, state lawmakers could present new ways of combating a different kind of DUI – drugged driving or driving while high.
One option presented by the Virginia State Crime Commission in December would eliminate protection for drivers that currently disallows officers to stop and search them when the smell of drugs, like marijuana, is present.
But this is a much trickier problem to fix than in 1984.
Unlike alcohol, marijuana stays in your system much longer, making it difficult to pinpoint if a driver is actually under the influence behind the wheel.
To read more about what lawmakers are prioritizing in this year's General Assembly, click here.