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District moves to restart drunk driving breath test program

For quite a while, anyone passing through Washington, D.C., had to worry about police and the District's odd drunken driving policies. Though Metropolitan Police stopped using breath tests to check motorists suspected of drunk driving after it was discovered that the breath tests could overestimate the amount of alcohol in a person's system by 20 percent, the D.C. Council has proposed a bill that would resume breath tests. It remains to be seen what will make these breath tests different from the previously erroneous ones.

Not only does this bill reinstate a test that has led to 400 convictions on inaccurate evidence, but it also increases the severity of drunk driving punishments in the District. Now, when someone is arrested for driving with a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit of 0.08, he or she may be fined $1,000 and sent to jail for up to 180 days. This is compared to the current punishment of a $300 fine and 90 days in jail.

In addition, the bill would make the legal limit for anyone driving a commercial vehicle, or any vehicle that is over 26,000 pounds, 0.04. Though some argue that anyone driving a truck, bus or other large vehicle for work should not be intoxicated, there are some vehicles that weigh over 26,000 pounds that are not used for work purposes. Others have said that many commercial drivers will use their vehicles for both work and for personal use. Even though the driver may not be using his or her vehicle for work at the time, he will still be unable to have more than two drinks in an hour.

The breath test debacle is only one of Washington, D.C.'s, many problems with drunk driving. While police must determine a person's blood alcohol concentration to charge him or her with driving while intoxicated, there is no requirement for driving under the influence. Several years ago, many people reported being convicted of driving under the influence after only having very miniscule amounts of alcohol.

If this bill ends up passing, it may not be long before Washington, D.C., police come under fire again for drunk driving enforcement.

Source: The Washington Post, "Breath tests for drunken-driving suspects could resume next month in DC," Tim Craig, July 9, 2012

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Law Offices of
James N. Papirmeister, Esq.

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As Published in Washingtonian Magazine | Washington's Best Legal Minds | 2013