Whatcom sobers up

Published on Tue, Nov 20, 2012 by Ian Ferguson

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The Washington Traffic Safety Commission announced its “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign – a joint effort by local and state law enforcement agencies, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) and the Whatcom County Safety Task Force to reduce drunk driving over the holidays.

The holiday season is notorious for increased instances of drunk driving, and this initiative is aimed at curbing the practice. Extra officers will be on patrol between November 21 and January 1 watching for impaired drivers throughout the county.

WTSC director Darrin Grondel urged drivers to plan ahead. “Don’t let a DUI ruin your holidays,” he said. “Before you leave home for a party, think about how everyone can get home safely. Designate a sober driver, take a taxi or stay the night.”

The costs of a DUI conviction are severe in Washington, where a driver is considered under the influence if he or she has a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher. The minimum penalty for a first offender includes: $823 in fines, $1,000 to install an ignition interlock on the offender’s vehicle, one night in jail, a 90-day license suspension, and a year of alcohol evaluation and treatment, not to mention legal fees, a $150 reissue fee and higher insurance rates. The fines and penalties go up for repeat offenders or those with a BAC higher than 0.15 percent. Even those who refuse to take a breath test automatically lose their license for a year and pay a minimum of $350. 

Authorities in Washington have  recently adopted a slew of measures to fight impaired driving. In 2006, law enforcement agencies began a pilot program in Snohomish County called the Nighttime Emphasis Enforcement Team (NEET) and deployed Washington State Patrol (WSP) troopers who concentrated on nighttime enforcement of impaired driving laws. 

In the first 27 months of the program, traffic fatalities in Snohomish County decreased by 40 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2010, WTSC, WSP and local law enforcement agencies began the Target Zero Teams project with the goal of expanding NEET to King and Pierce County, and ramping up the program in Snohomish County. Over the first 10 months of Target Zero, alcohol- and drug-related vehicle fatalities in those three counties decreased by 34.4 percent.

Ignition interlocks – devices that require users to blow an alcohol-free breath into a tube before being able to start their vehicle – have also shown promise. DUI-convicted drivers who install the cell phone-sized device on their vehicles must have a record of clean blows for the last four months of the restriction to get the device removed and be eligible for their regular license. “This ensures that drivers demonstrate the ability to separate their drinking from their driving,” Grondel explained.