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Lawmaker keeps pushing new DUI measures to curb deaths

Suspected drunk driver Mark Mullan, 50, sits on the curb in northeast Seattle near where he plowed his truck into a family Monday, March 25, 2013, killing two and critically injuring two others. (AP image)

When Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) heard about last week’s horrific Seattle crash where a drunk driver plowed into a family, killing two and critically injuring two others, it hit the chairman of the state’s Impaired Driving Working Group particularly hard.

For the last few years, Goodman has worked tirelessly to pass a number of DUI laws. But even though they’ve helped significantly reduce the number of DUI related deaths, he is the first to tell you they’re far from enough.

“He ignored every court order, drove without a license, didn’t get the ignition interlock device, was put in jail, bailed himself out of jail, probably drove drunk every time,” Goodman said in an interview with KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show about Mark Mullan, 50, the repeat drunk driver accused of killing Dennis and Judy Schulte and left their daughter-in-law and newborn grandson in comas with life-threatening injuries.

Mullan, who was nearly three times over the legal blood-alcohol limit, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted for vehicular homicide, thanks to new DUI penalties passed last year. But while increasing jail or prison time gets drivers like Mullan off the road when they’re finally caught, they do nothing for all the other times chronic inebriates get behind the wheel.

So what’s the solution? Goodman says research from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and others cite roadside sobriety checkpoints as the most effective deterrent, a measure he has proposed a number of times.

“That doesn’t even get out of committee because there’s a sense we need to protect our privacy,” he said. That despite their use in significantly reducing drunk driving in 38 states, Canada and Europe.

“It is as far as legal measures the most effective way to stop drunk driving. If you never know when you’re going to get pulled over, you’re not going to drive with alcohol in your system.”

The state Supreme Court has previously ruled they can’t be implemented without a new law. And Goodman and other legislators say it’ll never pass.

Goodman has convened an emergency meeting of the working group next week to try one more time this session to see if other measures can be quickly put in place. Among them, making a DUI a felony on the third conviction within 10 years rather than the fifth.

“That’s out of control. We need to make the third offense a felony offense. I mean what’s the difference between your third DUI, your fourth DUI and your fifth DUI. I don’t think there’s any difference,” he said.

While some would like to see repeat offenders jailed longer and more often, Goodman admits budget restrictions make that impractical.

“There are 40,000 arrests a year and half of them are repeat. And that means we have to pay for the jail time and the prison time and we’re talking tens of millions of dollars.”

That’s why Goodman and others have led the charge on increase use of ignition interlock devices. While Mullan ignored court orders to install one, Goodman believes their use has significantly reduced the number of DUI deaths in the state. There were about 100 fewer the past two years since a measure requiring their use and a special license passed.

But lawmakers admit there aren’t enough people dedicated to enforcement. Right now, only three people across the entire state are tasked with making sure the devices are being used, The Seattle Times reports. Goodman and others are proposing far more, along with increased responsibilities for the State Patrol to monitor them.

Goodman is also calling on automakers to install interlocks in all new vehicles in the future, and says coupled with a continued change in culture, he’s hopeful the number of DUI deaths can continue to be reduced.

“We’ve made some progress. But we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

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