In Our View: Tougher DUI Law

If you’re arrested for drunken driving, the vehicle will be towed and impounded

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One is too many, but the official number of traffic deaths across Washington in 2010 is 458. Of those, 188 (41 percent) involved drivers who were under the influence of intoxicants. If you believe 41 percent is unusually high, you’re correct. The national percentage in 2010 was 32, although, again, 1 percent is too high.

Here’s another horrifying statistic: 40,000. That’s the average number of impaired drivers that law officers in our state arrest each year. Think about that number for a minute, and then absorb the additional horror that comes with wondering how many thousands more people drive drunk without getting caught.

There’s no indication this problem will go away anytime soon, but as of last Thursday, there’s one more reason to never get behind the wheel after — or while — drinking: The vehicle will be towed and (with a few exceptions) held for 12 hours. It’s a good law — one that would be unnecessary in a perfect world, but in our world Washingtonians have made it necessary.

So, you think you can convince the officer at the scene to turn over the driving of that car to someone who is sober? No dice. According to the new law, officers cannot turn the car over to a sober friend, relative or another passenger at the scene of the DUI arrest. It will be towed and impounded for 12 hours.

Tough law? You bet! An additional expense of getting the car released by the tow company? No doubt! But there’s an easy way to keep this from becoming an issue: Don’t get behind the wheel drunk. The new law makes so much sense, one wonders why it took this long to implement. According to a news release from the Washington State Patrol, “many jurisdictions lack jail space in which to book those arrested for drunk driving. After processing, arrested persons are typically released to a responsible adult or allowed to take a taxi home. But the courts wouldn’t allow officers to impound vehicles without considering alternatives to impounding or having the driver’s permission.”

The danger in that policy was demonstrated with a single incident in 2007. A woman in Whatcom County who was impaired returned to her vehicle and drove before sobering up. That caused a collision, and a seriously injured victim won a $5 million judgment against the county and the WSP.

Earlier this year, legislators passed the law, which is not intended to be punishment. “If they’re found guilty, that will become the court’s job,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste said in the news release. “This is about making sure that impaired drivers don’t return to their cars and drive again before they’ve sobered up.” Any inconvenience this causes the drivers is well worth it for the sake of the enhanced safety on Washington’s roads.

A few exceptions allow a vehicle to be reclaimed before the 12 hours have elapsed: If it is owned by someone other than the arrested person, such as a business owner; if a registered co-owner shows up at the tow company; commercial or farm transport vehicles may be reclaimed by a legal owner who is not the arrested subject. In fact, commercial and farm transport vehicles may be released at the site of the arrest to legal owners, but that exception extends to no other types of vehicles.

So now, in addition to the countless other reasons that have always existed to not drive drunk, Washingtonians have two more: the inconvenience and cost of getting a vehicle towed. Any complaint against the new law deserves to be summarily ignored.