New DC drunken driving law to take effect

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A new law that toughens penalties for drunken driving in the nation's capital takes effect Wednesday, but the city's police department still is not using breath tests on suspected drunken drivers more than a year after the tests were suspended.

The new law, which was approved by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray earlier this summer. It doubles mandatory minimum jail terms for people with blood-alcohol concentrations of .20 percent or higher and establishes a blood-alcohol limit of .04 percent for commercial drivers, including taxi drivers.

The law also establishes new oversight for the district's breath-testing program. But there's still no timetable to the resumption of breath tests, which D.C. police stopped using in February 2011 in the wake of revelations that their breath-testing devices had produced inaccurate results. Police have been using urine and blood tests instead.

A year earlier, District of Columbia officials had notified defense lawyers about nearly 400 drunken-driving convictions that relied, at least party, on inaccurately calibrated blood-alcohol tests.

More than two dozen people sued the district over convictions based on those flawed tests, and the district Attorney General's office said Tuesday that all the outstanding lawsuits had been settled. The district paid a total of $136,000 to 17 plaintiffs, with individuals receiving between $2,000 and $42,000, said Jeffrey Rhodes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

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