NTSB Pushes for Tougher DUI Laws in Washington
By: Mike Stetzer
The National Transportation Safety Board reportedly has concerns about the DUI laws of Washington state
. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
reported that the NTSB feels the state's laws are not up to the challenges presented during the holiday season, and the state should do more to stop drunken driving.
Washington is one of the 25 states named in an NTSB review that have not made the changes recommended by the federal safety board to fight drunken driving.
One of the strongest NTSB complaints against Washington is the state's reluctance to allow law enforcement to conduct DUI checkpoints.
In states that allow DUI checkpoints, police screen all drivers as they pass through. Suspected drunken drivers are detained for field sobriety tests and/or breath tests. There are currently no DUI checkpoints in Washington because the state's checkpoint law was struck down as unconstitutional in the late 1980s.
MJ Haught, spokeswoman for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, which supported a legislative push to allow sobriety checkpoints, told the Post-Intelligencer that the Commission fully believes sobriety checkpoints that do not violate civil rights could be conducted with appropriate legal safeguards in place.
The Commission's legislative efforts failed this year, but there is hope that future legislation will be supported.
Since there are not DUI checkpoints in Washington, the state has stepped up other efforts to combat drunken driving. There will be a series of emphasis patrols throughout the state during the holiday season which will allow officers to target suspected drunken drivers.
These patrols will include State Patrol aircraft equipped with cameras to spot drunken drivers. When the aircraft officers locate suspected drunken drivers, patrol units on the ground will be notified so they can make the DUI arrests.
The NTSB also criticized Washington for allowing plea bargains for DUI defendants with a first offense, not impounding all vehicles driven by DUI suspects and failing to set up a statewide system of courts for repeat offenders. So far, four counties in the state have specialized DUI courts that direct repeat offenders into monitored alcohol treatment programs.
The state has also strengthened several DUI laws in recent years. Repeat offenders can now be charged with felony drunken driving and receive more severe sentences. DUI offenders in Washington will also face enhanced requirements for ignition interlock devices as of Jan. 1.
While progress has been made with the DUI laws in Washington, the NTSB still recognizes the weaknesses and continues to push for policy changes in the state.