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New Year Brings Sobriety Testing For Repeat Drunk Drivers

Repeat drunk drivers in Washington who get arrested in the new year may find themselves ordered to blow into a breathalyzer twice a day. Starting Jan. 1, three counties and two small cities will begin piloting a 24/7 sobriety program modeled after one in South Dakota.

Spokane, Chelan and Thurston counties as well as the cities of Kent and Centralia are the guinea pigs for this new sobriety program in Washington. Participants are required to either report to jail twice a day to give a breath test or pay more for an ankle bracelet that monitors for alcohol consumption.

“Judge may place you into this program for intense alcohol monitoring on a 24 hour basis, seven days a week for six months or longer,” said Bruce Bjork, who runs the pilot program for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Bjork says based on 2012 numbers, the pilot around-the-clock sobriety program could have as many as a thousand eligible participants in the first year. The drunk driver pays for the program estimated at $4 a day for the breath tests or $10 to $12 a day for the ankle monitoring.

The plan is to expand the program statewide by 2017. Washington lawmakers adopted this approach in response to a series of tragic crashes involving repeat drunk drivers.

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.