Lawmakers gave some teeth to the state’s DUI laws a couple weeks
ago, but nothing like a couple national groups want to do.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and an industry coalition called the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety are developing a DADSS — Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety. Their goal is to equip every passenger vehicle in the country with technology to disable the car if the driver is drunk.
Here in Washington, some drunken drivers can get their licenses back if they install an ignition-locking device. Though you need to blow a .08 blood alcohol level to get busted for DUI, a .025 will keep the car from starting, said Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins. Once the car is running, there’s a retest within the first 10 minutes, and randomly after that.
For a first offense, you need to keep the interlock device at least one year, at least five years for a second and at least 10 for three or more DUIs.
Cops figure people need to get to work or take their kids to school, even if they’ve been busted for DUI, so they’re better off driving an interlock-equipped car than driving illegally and possibly drunk.
Now, with a bill signed by Gov. Gregoire on March 29, the ignition interlock device must come with a camera so the drunk can’t have somebody else blowing into it. And the drunk must foot the bill for the device, which can be a couple hundred bucks to install and another $50 to $100 a month to rent.
The bill, which passed the House by a 98-0 vote and 49-0 in the Senate, also:
Authorizes police to administer breath or blood tests for felony DUI arrests without the suspect’s consent.
Raises the amount of emergency response costs DUI offenders are liable for from $1,000 to $2,500.
Requires plea agreements and sentences for felony DUI cases to be kept as public records and prevents courts from vacating convictions for felony DUI.
Authorizes courts to order offenders to submit to alcohol monitoring.
Expands DUI laws to cover “huffing.”
I can’t disagree with any of this. If anything, it’s still not stiff enough. I guess if you get drunk and go into the ditch, it’s one thing while causing a wreck that gets somebody killed is another. A lot what you run into is just luck and fate, however.
Suppose you do kill somebody. Another bill this year increased the penalty for vehicular homicide from two to three years in prison to six to eight years. It still doesn’t seem like much for taking a life.
Drunken drivers kill more people in Washington state than all other criminals combined, if you count the drivers themselves. From 2000 to 2010, drunk drivers killed 2,042 people, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. That’s more than the 2,028 people who were the victims of an intentional killing during the same period.
The national groups mentioned earlier, which include most of the world’s auto makers, have spent four years and $10 million preparing to tackle drunk-driving deaths. They look at alcohol detectors as standard safety equipment, and want to put them in every car like airbags and seat belts. They’ve recently completed the proof-of-concept phase and now are beginning two years demonstrating alcohol detection systems. They could begin to be installed in vehicles in eight to 10 years.
People will complain it’s more of the nanny state and Big Brother taking over, but if they do it right, it’s OK by me. Restaurant trade groups want to keep an increase from $10 million to $24 million for the program out of the federal transportation budget. They say DADSS supporters claim the alcohol detectors would be set at .08 BAC, but due to legal, liability and logistical concerns, they would have to be below the legal limit, most likely around .03 to .04 percent.
Then there’s the problem of misreads. If the devices were reliable 99.99966 percent of the time, that would still be more than 4,000 misreadings a day, 4,000 sober people who couldn’t drive their cars, according to Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute.