March 21, 2012 | LXXI, No. 51

New DUI law stiffens penalties, opens records

After a Friday night of happy-hour and late-night drinking, many fail to consider the repercussions of driving while impaired, but legislators have.

Various changes to the driving-under-the-influence law have unanimously passed the Legislature and after the governor signs it, takes effect Aug. 1. The reform puts more stringent penalties on those convicted of drunk driving, including increased fees and facial recognition systems on ignition-interlock devices.

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, sponsored House Bill 2443, which, he said, will enforce one of the most “comprehensive ignition interlock programs in the country” by strengthening the workforce to properly administer it.

The Department of Licensing takes the reins of the program from city and county courts.

Capt. Jason Berry, legislative liaison for the Washington State Patrol, has been an advocate for the bill and agrees that the current program needs better enforcement.

“As we look to technology to assist us in changing offender behavior … we need appropriate oversight in place,” said Berry in a press release last week. “This bill will provide that, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

But it will cost convicted drunk drivers.

The bill imposes fees to fund Ignition Interlock Devices for DUI-convicted drivers who can’t afford the device. For those who are required to have the Breathalyzer — which activates the device upon exceeding the alcohol limit — and can afford it, an extra $20 per month is tacked on to the original monthly interlock device fee. Fees deposited into a dedicated account help pay the cost for indigent drivers.

Stricter rules on who is required to have an ignition interlock device and who may apply for one opens up the number of devices to those who have had their original DUI charge reduced to reckless driving. This, in turn, increases the number of devices needed and generates more dollars.

“We’ve had about 25,000 [devices installed] over the course of the last couple of years. This might double those numbers,” Goodman said. “The research is really clear that if the device is in the car, you don’t drive drunk.”

Under terms of the new law, felony DUI cases are kept as public records. Formerly, people who had completed the terms of their felony DUI conviction could have their records sealed.

Ignition Interlock Device manufacturers, vendors, technicians and providers have agreed to pay other fees that are estimated to rise up to $877,750 in 2013. The money would be deposited into the Highway Safety Account controlled by the Washington State Patrol Impaired Driving Section Projects. According to Goodman, a stronger statewide compliance program is expected to emerge under terms of the new rules.

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