D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray wants to toughen the District's drunken-driving laws for especially intoxicated offenders by sharply increasing minimum jail sentences.
Under a measure pending before city lawmakers, drivers who blow a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 or higher -- more than double the District's legal limit of 0.08 -- would face at least 10 days in jail. District law currently requires a sentence of only five days.
The penalty for a blood-alcohol level of 0.25 or above would also climb to a minimum sentence of at least 15 days behind bars, a five-day increase.
"This is part of the mayor's broader effort to reduce traffic issues in the District," Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said. "We want to make it safe to come into the District."
The measure would also increase fines for drunken driving and implement penalties for boating under the influence that are similar to those for driving a land-based vehicle while impaired.
Authorities estimate that the new penalties could ensnare nearly half of the people arrested for drunken driving.
Through the first six months of 2012, the Metropolitan Police Department made 633 arrests for impaired driving, and city officials predicted that the increased sanctions would affect 600 defendants annually.
Under that projection, those offenders would combine to serve 3,000 extra days in jail a year. At $137 an inmate per day, taxpayers would spend $411,000 a year for the changes.
Natwar Gandhi, the District's chief financial officer, told lawmakers, though, that the city can afford the six-figure tab because of other cost savings in the Department of Corrections' $139 million budget for 2013.
The proposed penalties came just months after the District paid more than $20,000 to settle four drunken-driving cases that were based on flawed breath tests.
A provision in the law would allow breath tests to be admitted as evidence in court without expert testimony, though.
The heightened penalties for drunken driving would be the latest effort by the Gray administration to push traffic safety.
Lawmakers have already signed off on more than doubling the size of the city's traffic camera program, in a move that will bring in tens of millions of dollars but that Gray has repeatedly said is about safety.
Gray's permanent proposal, however, has no chance of becoming law for months. The D.C. Council will hear the bill for the first time Tuesday before taking a two-month recess, though lawmakers must vote twice for it to become law.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, though, will move emergency legislation that would temporarily enact the penalties beginning on Aug. 1 until lawmakers approve the permanent changes.