Opinion

Two DUI bills our state needs

The fight against drunk driving continues to be an uphill battle as thousands of people are still dying on our roadways, but there’s more that can be done.

There currently are two DUI-related House bills that will be heard during this year’s legislative session. The more support given to these bills to help them pass, the safer we’ll all be on the roads.

The first would create a sobriety checkpoint program — one that is desperately needed in Washington. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) and supported by Gov. Chris Gregoire, will have stringent guidelines that would require law enforcement to apply for a warrant to conduct an administrative sobriety checkpoint in their county as well as required statistical information showing significant alcohol- or drug-involved collisions within a one-mile radius of the proposed location.

“We have to do all that we can, over the last 10 years we’ve made immense progress ... but we have a long ways to go,” Lantz said.

The checkpoints would be set up in problem areas and at high- risk times for DUI offenses, such as two hours after the Super Bowl, according to Lantz.

“The whole idea of this is to act when you know the chances are great to prevent something really bad from happening,” Lantz said.

Opponents of the bill have argued it will infringe upon the civil liberties of citizens. In June 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional and do not violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“In sum, the balance of the state’s interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment,” stated Justice William H. Rehnquist in an excerpt of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The consequences of drunk drivers on the roads is far greater than the small inconvenience of being stopped at a checkpoint. We will all be safer on the roads should this bill pass. A small annoyance to have to stop at a checkpoint — yes, but the perceptions of those against the bill would change in a heartbeat should they be personally affected by a death caused by drunk driving.

“In a political sense, this is a good ‘get tough on those who can put us all in harm’s way’,” Lantz said.

Being stopped at a random sobriety checkpoint is no different than being searched at the airport, said Marsha Masters, president of the Kitsap County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

It is an inconvenience that will undoubtedly save lives. Another argument is drunk drivers will go around the checkpoint or avoid the area all together. Those who are careless enough to drink and get behind the wheel probably aren’t too concerned with catching up on the news which would feature checkpoint information.

“We have to do whatever we can to stop drinking and driving, we have to do this,” Masters said.

In the United States, on average, there is an alcohol-related traffic fatality every 31 minutes — nearly 50 people a day, according to national statistics.

Washington is currently the minority when it comes to sobriety checkpoints. Our state is only one of 11 that doesn’t implement the checkpoints to catch drunk drivers, according to Lantz.

We need to follow the lead of other states and implement this program that will help take drunk drivers off our roads.

The second DUI-related bill to be considered is in regard to a person whose license has been suspended for a DUI to obtain an ignition interlock license, enabling them to legally drive upon proof of installation of an ignition interlock device. Just like the sobriety checkpoint bill, there are certain regulations that must be followed including disqualifying those who refused a blood-alcohol test or those convicted of alcohol-related vehicular homicide or vehicular assault.

Both of these bills, which are expected to be heard in the House in the next couple of weeks, will help deter drunk drivers and will make our roads safer for everyone.

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