Our state took a powerful step toward safer roads on Thursday with a ceremony at the Washington State Patrol's regional office in Tacoma.
When Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that had been unanimously passed by both chambers of the Legislature, the state's DUI laws were strengthened in multiple ways. According to a statement from the office of bill sponsor Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, law officers now will automatically arrest people who are suspected of at least a second DUI within a 10-year period. Those suspects, before being released from custody, must have alcohol-sensing ignition-interlock devices installed on their vehicles. Additionally, anyone convicted of DUI while driving the wrong way or while children are passengers will facer stiffer penalties.
We wonder why it took so long. The new laws are common-sense responses to alarming statistics reported by the Seattle Times and described in an April 19 Columbian editorial. During the 14 years ending in 2012, more than 8,000 people were convicted in Washington of three or more DUIs. Also, two years ago, 199 drivers involved in 454 traffic-accident fatalities were impaired by alcohol or drugs.
As much as we welcome this long-overdue enhancement of DUI penalties, there lingers statewide and especially in Seattle the grief that inspired the passage of Padden's bill. The state senator pointed out that "passage of this bill, this year, has little to do with me and everything to do with the five people who forced the Legislature to finally confront the issues surrounding repeat DUI offenders: Dennis and Judy Schulte, their daughter-in-law Karina and grandson Elias; and Morgan Williams."
On March 25 in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood, Dennis and Judy Schulte died in a traffic accident that critically injured Karina and newborn Elias. Eight days later on state Highway 520, Williams died in a crash caused by a wrong-way driver. Both drivers who caused these accidents had recent DUI arrests, but had no ignition interlocks installed in their cars because their cases had not gone to trial. That won't happen under the bill signed on Thursday.
The crusade to remove drunken drivers from our highways is not over. Unfortunately, as Padden pointed out, "those who propose anti-DUI legislation almost always find themselves in an uphill battle." That's incomprehensible, in view of the statistics reported above. And here's a troubling example from Padden's press release: "All other Western states, from Alaska to Arizona, clamp down hard on the third (DUI) offense. (Other legislation this year) would have made the fourth DUI offense a felony in Washington; Padden plans to continue pursuing that stronger standard in 2014." We hope lawmakers' approval of that measure is also unanimous, and that any opponents are made to explain their votes.
Padden is more than just a legislator. He's a former Spokane County judge who presided over numerous DUI cases. He fully understands this issue. Washingtonians should hope his colleagues in the Legislature join him in that greater enlightenment about the deadly scourge that stalks our roadways.