Considering the countless hours Washingtonians spend driving and riding in vehicles, a few statistics about drunken driving in our state are horrifying:About 40,000 DUI arrests occur each year, according to the Washington State Patrol. Approximately half are made by state troopers, and half by local law enforcement.
Of 454 traffic accident fatalities in 2011 (the most recent year in which data are available), 199 involved drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs.
And here's a statistic that shows how drunken drivers are allowed back on the roads:
"More than 8,000 people were convicted of three or more DUIs in Washington between 1998 and 2012," according to a Seattle Times story.
Many of those statistics could be reduced if Gov. Jay Inslee gets his way. On Tuesday, he presented an anti-DUI plan that includes "the most aggressive, the most effective, the most ambitious" changes in DUI laws the state has ever seen. His bold description is no exaggeration, in view of the details presented below.
Whether there's enough time in this legislative session (less than two weeks) for lawmakers to adopt Inslee's plan remains to be seen. Also unknown is how vigorously these changes would be challenged in the courts. But at worst, the governor lifted the dialogue to new heights of resolve. And at best, something might even get done this year.
Some of the governor's ideas are quite innovative, yet drenched in common sense when you really think about it. For example, Inslee believes anyone who is convicted of a DUI for the third time would be prohibited for 10 years from buying alcohol in the state. Severe? Absolutely! Unfairly so? Absolutely not! We see no problem with declaring that three strikes for a drunken driver means you're "out" of buying booze for a decade.
Another proposed change would require charges be filed within 48 hours of an arrest for drunken driving. Currently, as Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large wrote recently, "it can take months for an offender to be charged. That's too long. … The faster we intervene, the more likely we are to be successful and to avoid potential tragedies."
Also, Inslee wants to require an ignition-interlock device (which prevents a car from starting if the driver is drunk) be installed before a vehicle involved in a DUI arrest is released from impoundment.
In terms of incarceration, here's where the governor's proposal really gets tough. Among penalties for a first conviction, a driver would have to pay for installing the interlock device. A second conviction would mean six months in jail, and a third conviction would result in a year in jail plus the 10-year ban on buying alcohol.
Costs for the tougher measures would be high, but some state officials say many costs could be absorbed by various agencies' budgets; other costs could be passed on to the convicted in the form of fees or court costs.
To his credit, Inslee has raised the hammer. Whether the Legislature lowers it this year is uncertain. But tough talk has begun. We hope it intensifies rapidly.