CENTRALIA — For the third consecutive year, an anti-impaired driving bill sponsored by state Sen. Mike Padden has been approved by the state Senate Law and Justice Committee. The bill now goes to the state Senate Transportation Committee. Previous versions of the bill were passed by the full state Senate during the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, including unanimously last year, before dying in the state House.
This year’s version of the bill, SB 5032, would expand the period for reviewing prior convictions of impaired driving from the 10 years currently allowed under state law to 15 years. The bill would also increase the penalty from a gross misdemeanor to a felony offense for any person who has three or more prior DUI offenses within the “lookback” period.
During the public hearing for SB 5032 earlier this week, Paden told the Law and Justice Committee repeat impaired-driving offenders commit most of the vehicular homicides and vehicular assaults in Washington state.
“This is a measure to try to prevent those horrible, senseless crimes,” Padden told the committee. “Four years ago, I was out driving here in Olympia on a weekend on I-5. Right at the Pacific Avenue exit I saw the remains of a crash in which a 17-year-old Hispanic woman from the Tri-Cities was killed. They were changing a tire on the shoulder and a repeat drunk driver crashed into them on the shoulder.”
Padden, who serves as the top Republican on the Law and Justice Committee, said the current 10-year lookback period isn’t long enough to allow the state to impose stronger punishment against repeat offenders.
“I think it’s common sense to make the lookback period 15 years instead of 10,” said Padden, a former Spokane County district court judge.
According to Padden, SB 5032 would give offenders the opportunity to undergo treatment to address their alcohol or drug problems.
The new bill comes amid a spike in traffic deaths. According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Washington road deaths reached a 20-year high in 2021 with 670 deaths. Of those 272 deaths were the result of drug-impaired driving and 155 deaths were due to alcohol-impaired driving. For 2022, the commission has a current preliminary estimate of 745 traffic deaths, though no figures are available for the number of traffic deaths from drug or alcohol-impairment for 2022.
“Our state has seen an alarming increase in traffic deaths over the past few years, and drunk driving and drug-impaired driving are two leading causes. This bill would help get the most dangerous drivers off the road and into treatment,” Padden said. “Preventing impaired driving should be a key goal in our state. We’ve seen too many accidents and fatalities caused by drunk and drug-impaired drivers, especially repeat offenders. This bill could help reverse this tragic trend.”
Among those who testified in favor of the bill were Gov. Jay Inslee’s public safety policy official, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.