Richmond, VA- An intoxicated driving charge in Virginia has varying consequences, and new law changes that went into effect last year, the use of ignition interlock devices for first offenders has increased by 75 percent.

Data from the Virginia Alcohol Action Safety Program released by AAA Mid-Atlantic showed that 8,500 drivers registered for the ignition interlock program over the 11 month period since the state’s tougher DUI laws went into effect, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported.

The device requires a driver to blow into the device before their vehicle will start. If their blood alcohol level is above 0.02 a vehicle won’t start. Tampering with or attempting to bypass the device is a misdemeanor.

Roughly, 50 percent of all first time DUI offenders will repeat the offense, despite losing their license and other criminal penalties. Lawmakers in Virginia saw this as a major problem and finally passed tougher laws to cut down on intoxicated driving.

Earlier this year, the National Traffic Safety Administration urged all fifty states to pass a law requiring ignition interlocks for first offenders, but only a handful of states have followed those recommendations. Virginia is among only 15 states that have made these devices mandatory for first-time offenders.

“Advocates fought an uphill battle for five long years to get this law passed in Virginia,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Martha Mitchell Meade said in a news release, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. “Remarkably, the law is already showing results less than a year after it was enacted. It throws the book at all drunk drivers, and most notably first-time offenders, who were caught red-handed while driving over the legal limit and subsequently convicted of drunk driving.”

Prior to the passage of the law, convicted intoxicated drivers were required to the have the device if they had two or more convictions.

In addition to making ignition interlock devices mandatory, new laws to crackdown on repeat drunk drivers have recently taken effect and mean more people will be facing mandatory jail time.

Beginning on July 1st, repeat convictions for drunken driving can no longer be classified as misdemeanors, these offense if occurring within a six- year period will be classified as Class 6 felonies, which means the offender will likely receive a jail sentence.

The previous law classified repeat offenses are misdemeanors if they occurred over a ten year period.

The mandatory jail sentence for repeat offenders is one year with a $1,000 fine and up to five years suspension of the offender’s driver’s license.

Kurt Erickson of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program said in an interview with the, “As repeat drunk drivers are over-represented in fatal crashes where alcohol was a factor and that DUI convictions are actually on the rise in Virginia, this new law is both welcomed and necessary.”

The tougher laws will mean that those arrested for a DUI will require legal assistance if they wish to avoid harsh DUI penalties. Ignition interlocks can be costly; the fees are added on top of standard DUI fines. A Richmond DUI attorney can offer their clients an effective defense that will possibly allow them to avoid a conviction.