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New DUI laws in Washington call for alcohol monitoring, more jail time

A Seattle woman was killed in a crash with a wrong-way driver on Highway 520 near the University of Washington. Michael A. Robertson, 25, has been charged with vehicular homicide and ordered held on $1 million bail. (KIRO Radio/Tim Haeck)

Longer jail sentences and the option of around-the-clock alcohol monitoring are part of a package of tough, new drunk driving laws just introduced in the Washington state Legislature.

With less than two weeks left in the regular session, Governor Jay Inslee and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is offering several new laws, including a mandatory six months in jail for repeat drunk driving offenders. A third offense brings a one year mandatory minimum.

“It’s pretty amazing to me that a person can get not one but two drunk driving convictions and just keep drinking and driving and frankly that’s the circumstance today,” says Gov. Inslee. “That’s unacceptable.”

A joint hearing on the Senate and House version of HB 2030 and SB 5912 is set to be held Thursday morning.

While lengthening jail sentences for drunk driving, lawmakers would offer a treatment and alcohol monitoring program, known as “24-7,” as an alternative.

“What we’re calling for under this 24-7 program, and it has been up and running in South Dakota, is that you get tested as much as twice a day to make sure that you’re not drinking, so this is a pretty enforceable measure,” says Inslee.

The option includes treatment and the installation of an ignition interlock system for a drunk driving defendant’s car.

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland says the monitoring is done with a bracelet.

“It’s a trans-dermal detection bracelet [worn] on the wrist or on the ankle and it’s cellular, you don’t have to plug it into the phone anymore. On a daily basis, we know whether you’ve consumed alcohol and if you have, the judge pulls you in,” says Goodman.

Inslee says the costs of the measure haven’t yet been determined, but they are “not insignificant.”

“This is an effective program, and if you’re going to have an effective program, there’s going to be some costs associated with it,” he says.

Goodman says the new laws are tough and fair.

“So the choice is six months in jail on your second offense, one year in jail on your third offense or wear the bracelet, go to treatment, put the ignition interlock on your car,” says Goodman. “You can live your life, you just have to live it alcohol free.”

If a drunk driver gets a third conviction, he’s also issued an identification card that would prohibit him from purchasing alcohol for a decade.

“Victims don’t have a second chance so, why are we giving the drunk drivers a second chance to kill,” argues Goodman.

According to the Washington State Patrol, there are about 40,000 DUI arrests a year, half made by the patrol, the other half by local law enforcement.

In 2011, the most recent data available, there were 454 traffic accident fatalities, 199 of which a driver was impaired by either drugs or alcohol, Goodman says. Of that 199, 135 were impaired by alcohol only. In 2007, of 571 total traffic fatalities, 272 involved people who were impaired while driving.


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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