Anti-DUI work group: Yes to random checkpoints, no to alcohol bans

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A new report suggests that Washington state should fight drunken driving by increasing penalties and establishing random sobriety checkpoints.

But another idea floated after a high-profile tragedy last spring, banning repeat DUI offenders from buying alcohol, was nearly-universally dismissed.

The 2013 Washington Impaired Driving Work Group delivered the 152-page report Monday. The 33-member group, created by the Legislature this year, was made up of lawmakers, lawyers, police officers, state-agency officials, advocates, victims’ families, treatment providers, ignition-interlock manufacturers and experts.

The group considered 11 specific ideas for reducing DUIs, ranking them according to overall support and where they should fall on the state’s priority list (the most supported ideas were not necessarily seen as top priorities).

The top three priorities, according to the report, all related to penalties: The group wanted to increase penalties for drivers who refuse to take a breath or blood test (top priority; supported by 79 percent of group members), strengthen mandatory minimum prison sentences and fines for repeat offenders (second priority, 72 percent) and make DUI a felony before the fifth offense, as it is now (third priority, 85 percent).

The report noted that Washington is the only state where a DUI becomes a felony on the fifth offense.

It is a felony on the second offense in four states, the third offense in 21 states and the fourth offense in 18 states. Six states don’t have felony DUIs.

Lawmakers this year considered making DUI a felony sooner, but did not take action, in part, because the move was seen as too expensive.

Making the change would “heighten the awareness and communicate the seriousness of DUI,” said group member Kim Sauer, of the state State Liquor Control Board, in the report.

The most surprising aspect of the report may have been the high level of support for sobriety checkpoints, which exist in 38 states but are seen as violating the state constitution.

The checkpoints, which would stop drivers even if they have done nothing wrong, were ranked as the fourth priority and supported by 82 percent of members.

“I think the research has shown that this should be a priority,” said member Dan Schulte, a group member whose parents were killed, and wife and infant son critically injured, in an alcohol-related crash in Seattle in the spring.

Not everyone in the group agreed.

“I like them,” Tom McBride, of the state association of prosecutors, commented in the report, ”but do not see how they survive state constitutional privacy protections.”

The most supported of the 11 ideas, promoting and monitoring the use of alcohol-sensing ignition interlocks, was endorsed by 97 percent of group members. But it was ranked as only the 10th priority.

That put it just ahead of the least-supported policy on the list, the alcohol bans for repeat offenders. That idea got just 18 percent support.

Group member Brad Fralick, of the interlock manufacturer Consumer Safety Technology, was blunt in the report: “This is laughable,” he said. “Even if you could limit purchasing this does nothing to stop the consumption or driving after consuming.”

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