Friday, March 30, 2012

Drive hammered, get nailed

For years, that’s been the catch-phrase of the Washington State Patrol, sending a clear message to drunk drivers: we’re coming after you.

There’s a good reason to be vigilant about drunks behind the wheel. Though violent crime gets more headlines, the average person has a greater chance of being maimed or killed on the road than at the hands of violent criminals.

Now with the passage of House Bill 2216 by Rep. Christopher Hurst, drunk drivers who cause a crash that kills somebody will get nailed much harder.

Hurst wrote the bill in the context of his 25-year career as a police officer and detective. He responded to more crashes than he cares to remember.

“A vehicle operated under the influence of alcohol is a deadly weapon and it’s time our sentencing guidelines reflected that fact,” said Rep. Hurst. “Nothing can bring back the victims of these crimes, but I do hope this change brings some justice for the loved ones coping with an unimaginable loss.”

Under the new law, jail time for vehicular homicide by DUI more than doubles. Those found guilty will face 78 to 102 months behind bars, equivalent to the penalty for first-degree manslaughter.

Prosecuting attorneys across the state have long advocated for an increase in sentences for DUI vehicular homicide. Leading the charge: King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

"This increased penalty will feel more like justice to victim's families, friends and the community," Lindquist said. "Furthermore, this legislation is part of a larger effort to send a message that we don't tolerate drunk driving in Washington."

Tom McBride, with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said, "Driving drunk and causing the accident that kills another person is, in every sense of the word, criminally reckless. Drunk driving vehicular homicide should be treated as seriously as manslaughter, another recklessness based crime, - which is what this law does."

“With the leadership of Reps. Chris Hurst and Roger Goodman in the House and David Frockt, Adam Kline and Mike Padden in the Senate, we have given the families of loved ones lost to drunk drivers some sense of justice,” Satterberg said. “The increased sentences will not bring back their family members but will send a strong message to drunk drivers that their actions have consequences."

The bill was signed by Gov. Gregoire yesterday and goes into effect ninety days after the legislative session adjourned on March 8th, and those convicted after that date will face longer sentences behind bars. 

For people who like numbers and charts: this link to the Traffic Safety Commission has all sorts of data and color charts on drunk driving crashes. There is some jargon to translate. “VMT” stands for “Vehicle Miles Traveled,” so what they’re doing is adjusting crash figures for the growing population and number of cars on the road.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.