New DUI laws to take effect Wednesday in D.C.

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Local,Crime,Aubrey Whelan

Drunken-driving laws in the District are about to get tougher -- and D.C. officials say they hope stricter rules will deter more drivers from getting behind the steering wheel after a few beers.

The new laws, passed by emergency legislation a few weeks ago, will take effect on Wednesday. They double jail time for drivers who blow between a 0.20 and 0.24 blood-alcohol level -- from five days to 10 days behind bars -- and increase penalties for 0.25 BACs or higher to a minimum of 15 days in jail.

Drunken drivers who have a minor in the car will now face a minimum of five days in jail, and maximum fines will increase from $300 to $1,000. Maximum DUI jail time will jump from 90 days to 180 days in jail.

In addition, commercial drivers -- including taxi drivers -- will now be prosecuted if they're caught driving with anything over a .04 BAC.

D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson, who wrote the legislation, said he hopes the new rules will act as a deterrent.

"It's another tool in the toolbox to make it easier for police to make our roads safer," he said.

He said the new laws will also allow the District to begin using breath-analysis machines again. The city shut down the program two-and-a-half years ago and recently spent $200,000 to settle four DUI cases that hinged on faulty breath-test results. The Chief Medical Examiner's office will assume control of the program under the new laws.

"It's not that enforcement has lagged. With this legislation, enforcement will be even better," Mendelson said.

"In terms of combatting DUI, this is a good first step," said Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. He added that he thinks the law should also increase penalties for offenders who blow a .15 BAC or higher. DUI laws throughout the region, he said, should be as uniform as possible.

"In this area, you have people from all over the region using the city as a playground. D.C. has a disproportionate burden here," he said. "It underscores the need to be uniform in terms of [DUI regulations]."

awhelan@washingtonexaminer.com

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