Legislature Moving On Tighter Drunk Driving Laws

In 2012, Ashley Bonus lost her sister, Stacy Gammons-Ankerfelt, in an accident that involved impaired driving. Following this incident, Bonus fought against impaired driving to reduce the number of fatalities caused by such negligent behavior. And now, she is in favor of new legislation that lowers the blood alcohol level needed to avoid convictions related to impaired driving.

Bonus, who volunteers with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), recently testified in favor of a bill sponsored by Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, which has been forwarded to the Senate Rules Committee last month.

Known as the Substitute Senate Bill 5002, this bill lowers the breath and blood alcohol concentration limit (BAC) for driving a vehicle to .05%. The previously permitted limit was .08%. This is applicable for people driving under the influence of alcohol, intoxicating marijuana, and other drugs. Gov. Jay Inslee and other advocates of the bill are optimistic that this change will help reduce the number of fatalities arising from impaired driving in the state of Washington.

In 2022, around 745 people lost their lives in traffic accidents in Washington – the highest figures recorded in the state since 1990. And as per the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), around half of these fatalities resulted from impaired driving.

Lovick, who has spent over three decades serving as a state trooper and has experience dealing with impaired drivers, believes that this bill can deter people from drinking and driving. He said that he wants everyone in the state to be safe and to feel safe, both at home and on the streets. “Drivers are not just speeding, following too closely, passing on the shoulders, and driving aggressively. It is very clear to me that drunk driving is impacting the safety of our communities, and it is time that we do something. Drunk driving is a choice,” he added.

According to Denver underage DUI defense attorneys this problem is rampant throughout the US. However, at present, Utah is the only state with a law that reduces the permitted blood alcohol limit from .08 to .05. Utah’s bill, which was sponsored by Utah Rep. Norman K. Thurston, R-Morgan, led to a 19.8% reduction in fatal accidents the year after it was adopted.

Thurston also confirmed that Utah has seen a decrease in the number of impaired drivers ever since the state adopted a blood alcohol limit. “This bill is more about sending a clear message about not drinking and driving,” he said. However, Utah witnessed a rise in the number of drunk driving cases during the pandemic.

At present, most of the countries in Europe have a fixed BAC limit of .05%. According to the National Institute for Health Care Research, the adoption of the .05% BAC limit reduced the number of alcohol-related crashes occurring in France by one-third. A Ph.D. researcher for the American Journal of Public Health, Stephanie Morain, also mentioned that Europe has seen a 4.3% reduction in fatality rates due to the lower BAC limit.

Gov. Inslee, who supports SB 5002, said that “We know this will change behavior, and it’s not intended to put more people in jail. It’s an attempt to ensure people don’t cause loss of life on our highways and be a bit more responsible.”

The independent wine industry of Washington as well as brewery owners have put forward their concerns regarding the impact of the lower BAC limit on tasting rooms. Additionally, several organizations including the Washington Brewers Guild, the Washington Hospitality Association, and the Washington Wine Institute have testified against the bill.

However, the bill has found support from organizations like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Washington Trucking Association, the Washington Association for Substance Misuse and Violence Prevention (WASAVP), the WA Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, and the National Safety Council, who have testified in its favor. In case it is passed, the bill will come into effect from 1st July 2024.


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