Changes Need to be Made to Washington's DUI and Vehicular Homicide Policy

Considering the month of June has been titled "National Safety Month" by the National Safety Commission, it appears that drivers within Washington State; specifically Seattle, Renton, and Bellevue, have missed the memo. In June it seems that there are at least two or three new motor vehicle accidents caused by drunk drivers on a weekly basis, with many more that are not making the news or hurting anyone. With the multiple DUI accidents that have taken place lately, one must look for an explanation as to why Seattle is experiencing this spike in Drunk Driving accidents and fatalities. For the answer, look no further than the consequences of DUI arrests and vehicular homicides.

In 2008, there were 37,261 people killed in car accidents in the United States. 11,773 of those deaths involved drivers with Blood Alcohol Concentration above the legal limit of .08. This number is astonishingly low when you consider that in Washington State alone, there were 40,205 DUIs given out last year, and a total of 521 deaths. With such a high number of DUIs being handed out, changes in policy need to be made, specifically to the those policies that govern consequences of acting recklessly, putting oneself as well as others in danger by drinking and driving.

If I were to ask you what the average consequence of killing someone while driving intoxicated is in Washington, what would you say? 10 years in prison? 15 years? The reality is that the average sentence is of vehicular homicide when the defendant accepts a plea bargain in Washington State is rarely above three. Shocking, is it. When you consider that someone was killed because of that person chose to make a terrible decision, three years seem like getting off easy. So when Darrell Ross accepted a plea agreement for killing a 14 year old Graham boy while driving drunk, his 2 year and 7 month sentence was actually right on par with the average sentence. That is unacceptable.

Earlier this week, Ken Shram of the Komo 4 News, the called for more serious consequences for getting a DUI, specifically if you are a repeat offender and I could not agree more. Drunk driving statistics have been recorded since 1982, and the group of people that has made the least amount of progress, in terms of lowering drunk driving accidents and deaths, is the group of repeat offenders.

So what changes would Davis Law Group make in hopes of lowering both the number of DUI arrests made and more importantly deaths as a result of a drunk driving accident? There are three changes that we would make.

1. Exponentially Raise DUI Consequences

The best way to eliminate the DUI repeat offenders is to try to eliminate the number of first time offenders. So, by increasing the consequence for a first time DUI arrest to at least 7 days in jail and a $1000 fine, non-negotiable, those who may normally risk driving after drinking will reconsider. For second time offenders, 1 year in jail, $5,000 fine and a 2 year loss of license. Finally, for third time offenders, no less than 2 years in prison, $12,000 fine and a 3 year loss of license. Those are serious consequences that few would be willing to risk simply to get somewhere faster.

2. Enforce Minimum Prison Sentence for Plea Bargains

In Washington State, the majority of drunk drivers who kill someone as a result of their inability to operate a vehicle safely because they are intoxicated are charged with vehicular homicide which carries a potential sentence of 15 years to Life in prison if convicted. However, the very few of those cases actually go to trial. Rather, most except plea bargains and as a result serve an no more than three years. That is not good enough considering that because of that person's negligence, someone is dead. There needs to be a policy put in place that establishes a minimum sentence. Serving one or two years in prison is simply not good enough. I would suggest a minimum sentence of at least five years.

3. Offer Rewards for Anyone who Reports A Drunk Driver

Nothing supports action like a reward, because of that Washington State needs to offer a reward for someone who reports a drunk driver. The rewards need to be worthwhile though, getting a $5 gift certificate to Starbucks will not make a difference. There need to be $50 or $100 gift cards that will make people not only more aware of drunk drivers but also make people want to take action. While this may be far from a sure fire way of reducing the number of drunk drivers on the road, if one life is saved, the program has worked.

Overall, Washington State needs to make serious changes to its handling of DUI cases. There is simply not enough to deter the general public from drinking and driving. By making the three major changes of increasing the consequences of DUI arrests, for first, second, and third time offenders, enforcing a minimum sentence for plea bargains, and offering a rewards for people who report drunk drivers. I can't help but believe the number of accidents and deaths would be substantially decreased if these three steps, or some something close to these steps, were put in place.