During the 2013 legislative session, Washington lawmakers enacted comprehensive new DUI laws aimed at reducing drunk driving. As part of the new laws, an Impaired Driving Working Group was established to study and recommend to the Legislature new ways to fight drunk driving. The Working Group came up with 11 recommendations for the Washington legislature.
1. Making It Easier to Charge Someone With a Felony DUI
Generally, prosecutors in Washington can only charge someone with a felony DUI on the person's fifth DUI conviction. In most other states, someone can be charged with a felony much earlier. For example, 18 states allow a felony DUI after the fourth offense, 21 states after the third offense, and four states after the second offense. In addition, Washington only allows looking back ten years to determine past DUIs.
By lowering the number of prior DUI convictions that it takes to charge someone with a felony, the hope is that the increased penalties associated with a felony would act as a deterrent to potential drunk drivers. However, there is little evidence proving that this happens in practice. The Working Group concluded that such as strategy may be ineffective as a stand-alone strategy and would need to combined with another strategy.
2. Increasing Penalties and Fines for Repeat Offenders
Repeat DUI offenders face significant jail time, fines, license suspensions, and ignition interlock requirements. The Working Group explored whether further increasing these penalties would deter drunk drivers and concluded that it would not. Ironically, they actually found a correlation between increased minimum penalties and increased traffic crashes.
3. Enforcing Use of Ignition Interlock Devices
A major problem is that many repeat DUI offenders simply ignore the ignition interlock requirements and fail to install the device in their vehicle. The Working Group found that enforcing the use of ignition interlock devices as being most effective in preventing DUI recidivism rates.
4. Sobriety Checkpoints
There has been a lot of rumbling recently to allowing sobriety checkpoints in Washington. Currently, these checkpoints are illegal thanks to a Washington State Supreme Court decision. Washington is one of the few states that does not allow these random checkpoints of drunk drivers. However, lawmakers may want to reconsider this stance through a statute as the Working Group found that sobriety checkpoints are most effective for reducing serious drunk driving injuries.
5. Mandatory Jail Time for a First-Time Offender
This method would provide mandatory jail time to even first-time DUI offenders. By keeping offenders off the road and in jail, one would think that DUI incidents and injuries would be drastically reduced. However, the Working Group found that the threat of jail time offered little in preventing DUIs. Instead, the Working Group suggests that mandatory jail time should be combined with other strategies like ignition interlock enforcement to effectively stop drunk driving.
6. Offering Treatment and Rehab to Repeat DUI Offenders
Instead of punishing repeat offenders, one thought is to treat and rehabilitate them. Some options for treatment include interventions and referrals. The Working Group found studies that support reductions in DUI recidivism with the implementation of substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation programs. The Working Group went so far as to state that treatment and rehabilitation would reduce DUI recidivism by up to ten percent if used in conjunction with other DUI sanctions.
7. Penalizing Those Who Refuse Blood/Breath Tests
Some of the most compelling evidence that can be used to support a drunk driving charge is a breath or blood alcohol test result. However, almost a quarter of all DUI suspects refuse these tests which has the effect of making prosecution difficult. By reducing test refusal rates, the Working Group found that the state can increase prosecution rates particularly for high blood alcohol content suspects. The Working Group pointed to research that found that increasing testing rates to be effective in appropriately punishing DUI suspects. However, it was unclear how this recommendation will reduce DUI arrests and accidents.
8. Prohibiting Sale of Alcohol to Repeat DUI Offenders
One of the more extreme recommendations is to prohibit the sale of alcohol completely to repeat DUI offenders. These offenders will be identified through special driver's licenses and identification cards. However, the Working Group found little evidence on the effectiveness of this strategy. Only a few states have these laws and the data suggests that other methods may be more efficient at reducing DUIs given the administrative difficulty of prohibiting alcohol sales to a subset of the population.
9. Prosecuting More Aggressively
This recommendation would attempt to increase the prosecution rates of DUI cases. From 2009-2010, the conviction rate for DUI arrests in Washington was only about 61%. However, a problem seems to be that there is a lack of resources at District Attorney's offices and these resources are not given to DUI cases. Still, the research suggests that increased prosecution rates do reduce deaths and serious injuries resulting from drunk driving. Along with increasing funding for prosecuting DUIs, some ways to increase prosecution rates would be limiting plea agreements and criminalizing refusal of blood alcohol tests.
10. Increasing Number of DUI Courts
The recommendation is to develop DUI courts similar to existing drug courts. Drug courts currently coordinate the judiciary, prosecution, law enforcement, social services, and other agencies. DUI courts could similarly coordinate many of the same agencies. Studies show that drug courts have been effective, and the research suggests that DUI courts can be as effective in reducing DUI recidivism as well as deaths and serious injuries.
11. Creating Local Impaired Driving Enforcement Task Forces
The idea is that highly visible and well-publicized DUI task forces will deter drunk drivers. These can include sobriety checkpoints as well as saturation patrols. The Working Group found that these task forces work if highly publicized. The key to this recommendation is consistent and constant messaging of the enforcement activities.
Contact a Seattle DUI Attorney
Drunk driving laws are in a constant state of flux in Washington. In 2013, significant new laws were passed and a Working Group was commissioned to think about even new ways to fight drunk driving. As a result, if you have been charged with a DUI in the King County area, you will want to talk to an attorney to understand the charges that you face and your options. You can reach an experienced attorney by contacting Wolff Criminal Defense at 425-284-2000.