The General Assembly in Virginia almost passed a bill Friday that would have made it legal to drive drunk at home. The bill passed 37-3 through the Senate last month, but lawmakers in a House of Delegates subcommittee blocked it last Friday.
Bill 308 would have allowed and intoxicated drivers to sit in or drive a car in their driveway or operate a lawnmower on the private property surrounding their house. Open containers in vehicles on private property would also be lawful under the bill. Lawmakers who shot down the bill were concerned that it was too challenging to distinguish the person calmly having a beer while sitting in a parked car and the person recklessly doing doughnuts in their front yard.
House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said, “Sitting in your driveway with your car running could mean you just got there.”
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, said he was trying to create a narrow protection to make sure DUI laws aren’t charging people “trying to do the right thing” by not driving under the influence on public streets. He gave the example that the bill would protect “the person who moves the car in his driveway.”
Stuart said he received a letter from a man who responsibly got a ride home from a bar but was prosecuted for DUI for moving a car in a private driveway. “We are catching people up that we never intended. We do value property rights in this state and this country.”
Stuart argued the bill would not let people recklessly drive around drunk on farms because the exemption in the bill would apply only to a residential property’s “curtilage,” or the area immediately surrounding a house.
Other supporters noted that it takes significant effort to get above the 0.08% BAC that requires a DUI.
Nevertheless, the subcommittee in the House of Delegates voted down the bill on Friday afternoon.
The bill’s widespread support shows that a considerable number of lawmakers believe that DUI laws are overly constricting. This bill was voted down late in the process, but we should stay on the lookout for similar protections being proposed across the country.