A Washington House committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would lower the state's blood alcohol level threshold for drunken driving from .08 to .05.
Shelly Baldwin from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission says officers around the state arrested 28,000 people for drunk driving last year. She said that figure is down from about 40,000 a few years ago.
Snohomish County Democratic Rep. Jon Lovick, who was a Washington State Patrol trooper for three decades, is the bill’s prime sponsor. He says, during his time as a trooper, he abolished special drunk driving emphasis patrols.
“I pulled my crew together and I said, ‘Lady and gentlemen, we will not have another drunk driving emphasis patrol.’ And they looked at me as if I was, they thought I was crazy because they knew how aggressive I was in going after drunk drivers," Lovick said. "And I looked at all of them and I said, ‘Every single minute of every single day that you are in your patrol cars we’re going to be on emphasis patrol. We’re going out to make a difference.'”
One lawmaker wondered about the cost to the state if it lowers its blood alcohol rate. That drew this response from one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Kennewick Republican Rep. Brad Klippert. He referred to his time serving as a police officer and to a tragic drunken driving case in his district.
"A local deejay in the Tri-Cities area lost his entire family to a DUI driver, wife and all of his children," Klippert said. "I’m asking you, if that were you, would the first thought that came to your head be, ‘how much is this costing the state?’ Would that be the first concern you have or would it be the safety of the citizens of Washington state or your family.”
Seth Dawson from the Washington Association for Substance Abuse Prevention says he supports a lower blood alcohol limit, but urged the legislature to think about the mixed signals it’s giving about drinking. He says many bills that allow people more opportunities to drink are approved every year.