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Victim, Prosecutor Say New DUI Law Is Progress, But Not Enough

Austin Jenkins

Second-time drunk drivers in Washington will go directly to jail. They’ll also be required to get an ignition interlock device within five days.

Those are just two of the provisions in a sweeping new DUI measure signed into law Thursday. But already there are calls for even tougher penalties in the future.

The bill signing ceremony took place at a State Patrol field office. Gov. Jay Inslee was flanked by police, prosecutors, lawmakers, and victims.

“Today, our state takes an important step in strengthening our laws to protect people from impaired drivers,” Inslee said.

In addition to mandatory arrest and ignition interlocks, the new law creates an alcohol monitoring pilot project for repeat offenders.

This new law was a reaction to a series of recent drunk-driving tragedies. Among those standing with the governor was Dan Schulte. His parents were killed and wife and newborn son critically injured last March when they were struck by a repeat drunk driver while crossing a street in north Seattle.

“It’s very fresh for us. It’s pretty hard to be here,” Schulte said.

Shulte said he’s thankful for the new law, but he thinks it doesn’t go far enough. He pointed specifically to how many times a drunk driver has to be caught before it becomes a felony.

“Right now, it takes way too many offenses in my opinion. It takes five offenses as I understand. And I think it could be less than that,” he said.

Amy Freedheim, senior deputy prosecutor in charge of all felony traffic crimes in King County agrees

“I think it’s 45 states (that) have felony DUI laws, and we are now the most lenient out of all of those 45. And I don’t think that’s a position Washingtonians want to be in,” she said.

The Legislature considered lowering that threshold this year, but decided it was too expensive in terms of prison costs.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.