Inslee, lawmakers look to toughen drunken-driving laws

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee and a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a plan Tuesday that would make changes to the state’s impaired driving laws, such as requiring an arrest on the first offense and mandatory jail time if offenders don’t enroll in a sobriety program after a second arrest.

The measure also would prohibit people from purchasing alcohol for 10 years after a third conviction on drunken driving, and it would require mandatory installment of interlock devices on cars after someone is charged, rather than convicted, unless an exception is made by a court.

Inslee called the plan the “most aggressive, the most effective, the most ambitious program to reduce drunk driving on our roads.”

“It is the right thing to do,” he said at a news conference, joined by several lawmakers involved with the bill. “If an offender cannot or will not modify their substance abuse, we will stop them from driving an automobile on the streets of the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

The proposal sets mandatory minimum jail times for second and third offenses, but offenders can avoid jail on the second offense if they enroll in a substance abuse program that requires them to take frequent breathalyzer tests. The program is modeled on one in South Dakota. On a third offense, they would be sentenced to 364 days in jail and issued an identification card that would prohibit them from purchasing alcohol for a decade.

A joint hearing on the Senate and House version of the bills is set to be held Thursday morning.

Inslee said 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 said.

The legislation comes in the wake of two recent fatal accidents.

Last month, a suspected drunken driver slammed into a family crossing the street in a residential Seattle neighborhood, a crash that critically injured a 10-day-old child and his mother and killed his grandparents.

Mark Mullan, 50, was ordered held on $2.5 million bail after pleading not guilty last week to charges of vehicular homicide and assault. Mullan, who had prior DUI arrests, was driving on a suspended license at the time of the crash, and was supposed to have an interlock device on his truck, but did not.

Earlier this month, 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.

“The victims don’t have a chance, they don’t have a second chance,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. “So why are we giving the drunk drivers a second chance to kill? We need tougher laws.”

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, he said. Of that 199, 135 were impaired by alcohol only. In 2007, of 571 total traffic fatalities, 272 involved people who were impaired while driving.

“We don’t want to see any fatalities in this state due to drunk driving,” said Republican Sen. Mike Padden of Spokane Valley, the sponsor of one of the bills.

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