A Discussion on Vehicle Safety and Deterring Drunk Drivers

I recently read an article that was published in The Seattle Times discussing various realistic and hypothetical strategies to improve the safety of vehicles for all drivers. The article tackled drunk driving.

There have been two high-profile drunken driving accidents in the Puget Sound area in the past couple of weeks. The first, an already-highly-publicized crash in the Wedgwood area in which Mark Mullan was driving drunk and crashed his Chevy pickup truck into a family of pedestrians, two of whom were killed. In the other, Michael Robertson was driving the wrong way on Highway 520 and crashed his Ford Explorer into a vehicle driven by Morgan Fick Williams, killing her.

Naturally, the fact that these crashes both involved a driver who was significantly impaired by alcohol – in addition to the fact that they both occurred about a week apart from one another – led to multiple conversations about drunk driving and whether Washington state’s DUI laws are tough enough.

The Drunk Driving Conversation in Washington

First, it is important to point out that – relatively speaking – Washington state’s drunk driving laws and the penalties that are assessed to offenders are among the strictest in the country. In fact, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has acclaimed that Washington has the most comprehensive ignition interlock law in the country. However, MADD also acknowledges in that same report that the Evergreen State could do more as a whole to crack down on drunk drivers.

The problem with the whole drunk driving conversation is that after a while, it begins to sound like a broken record. Well, like it or not, repetitive discussions about deterrents for drunk driving eventually get old and the public begins to lose interest. And let’s be honest, public interest is a key driving force behind facilitating a change in public policy and state laws.

That’s why I found myself somewhat refreshed when I read The Seattle Times’ article the other day, which explored some of the more creative, outside-the-box alternatives that could potentially deter drunk drivers.

Alternative Laws for Preventing Drunk Driving

One of the preliminary ideas suggested in the article was the possibility of barring anyone with a previous DUI conviction from operating an SUV or other type of larger vehicle, with the idea being that prior offenders would at least be limited to driving smaller vehicles that cause less physical destruction. I think this could be a tough one to enforce, but I also believe that trying to prevent those with a track record of DUI from getting behind the wheel of a large vehicle is beneficial to everyone.

Another hot topic of exploration involves ignition interlock devices, which require a driver to blow into a sensor that will prevent the car from being started if it detects any alcohol in the breath. The issue here, again, is enforcement, as both drivers involved in the deadly DUI accidents mentioned above were ordered to have these devices installed but never did. Clearly more needs to be done in terms of ensuring that offenders have these devices installed, but state resources are limited and monitoring the thousands of offenders in the state every year is difficult with limited resources.

I’m not sure exactly what the solution to preventing drunk driving is, but in all likelihood it probably involves a combination of a number of things – including some of the solutions mentioned in this article. What I do know is that there is still work to be done in order to keep innocent motorists from being victimized by impaired drivers, and it’s time to take a different approach to the discussion.

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