Category Archives: Department of Licensing

DUI: Men vs. Women

Image result for Drunk women and men

Great news article from the Bellingham Herald discusses the physiological differences in alcohol impairment levels experienced between men and women.

In Who Gets Arrested More for DUI: Men or Women?,  author Doug Dahl states that over the past couple decades, alcohol-impaired driving has steadily been decreasing, however, the reduction in impaired driving doesn’t apply to women. Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

Apparently, in a recent 10-year period, DUI arrests for men decreased by 7.5 percent while DUI arrests for women increased by 28.8 percent.

“According to the CDC, the average weight of an American man is 196 pounds, while the average American woman weighs 166 pounds,” said Dahl.  “Also, because of differences in enzymes, hormones and body fat percentages between men and women, women generally metabolize alcohol at a slower rate.” Simply put, says Dahl, women get drunk faster and stay drunk longer than men:

“To be clear, both of our imaginary people in this example shouldn’t drive. A BAC of .06 will cause impairment. It’s a big enough concern that legislators in some states, including Washington, have proposed reducing the legal limit to .05.”

Mr. Dahl further states that the level of impairment between a BAC of .06 and .09 is significant. According to a study of impaired driving crashes, a driver with a BAC of .06 is about 1.6 times more likely to cause a crash than a sober driver. For a driver with a BAC of .09, that jumps up to 3.5 times more likely. “Don’t judge your own impairment based on how someone else handles the same amount of alcohol, and always have a plan for a safe ride home before going out for drinks,” says Dahl.

Regardless of your gender, please contact my office if you, a friend or relative faces charges of DUI. These charges are serious, threaten careers and can significantly limit one’s driving privileges.

Lower .08 to .05?

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Interesting article from Heather Bosch of KING 5 news reports that Washington state lawmakers are considering lowering the legal limit for driving under intoxication (DUI) from .08 to .05.

“The research shows impairment begins with the first drink,” said Representative John Lovick, D-44th District. “And I believe this after being a state trooper for 31 years.” Lovick said he based his legislation, House Bill 1874, on recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board.

According to Bosche, however, the American Beverage Institute opposes the bill and similar legislation being proposed in Hawaii and Utah. The industry group claims only a small percentage of deadly car crashes are caused by drivers with a blood alcohol concentration between .05 and .08, and that a 120-pound woman could reach .05 with just little more than one drink. A 150-pound man could reach it after two.

“The move would target responsible and moderate social drinkers while ignoring the hardcore drunk drivers who pose the greatest threat to safety,” said American Beverage Institute Managing Director Sarah Longwell. In short, Longwell says what’s needed is better enforcement of current laws: “We have to focus on the real problem and not be distracted by feel-good legislation that criminalizes perfectly responsible behavior,” said Longwell.

Representative John Lovick agrees that current laws could be better enforced, but says lowering the alcohol limit to .05 would be “a great first step in letting the public know that we are serious about keeping people who drive drunk, off the streets.”

Bosche reports that a public hearing before the House Transportation Committee will be held Tuesday. The bill already cleared the House Public Safety committee, but not without controversy.

“There will be a few ‘no’ votes on this side of the aisle,” Representative Dave Hayes (R-10th District) said during a recent hearing. “My personal viewpoint on this is just the fact that I don’t believe it’s necessary to reduce the blood alcohol level, based on testimony and my own personal experience in processing DUIs.” Hayes is a sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.  Lovick is the former Snohomish County Sheriff.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said that if every state lowered the legal blood alcohol limit to .05, it would save 1,000 lives every year.

Interestingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) does not support the measure, calling it a “waste of time” because most people who are under .08 can pass field sobriety tests.

State Senate Passes Bill Making Fourth DUI a Felony.

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The WA State Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would make driving under the influence (DUI) a felony if the driver has three or more prior offenses on their criminal record within 10 years.

Senate Bill 5037 passed Thursday and now heads to the House, where it has stalled in previous years. The bill’s sponsors are as follows: Padden, Frockt, O’Ban, Darneille, Miloscia, Kuderer, Zeiger, Carlyle, Pearson, Conway, Rolfes, Palumbo, Angel, and Wellman.

Under the measure, a person who is charged with a fourth DUI, and has no other criminal history, would be subject to a standard sentencing range of 13 to 17 months in jail.

However, this bill allows first-time felony offenders to spend up to six months in jail, instead of nine, and finish out the rest of their sentence under supervision, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other programs.

My opinion? We shouldn’t be surprised. Over the past 20 years, Americans have seen a significant increase in the harsh penalties for intoxicated drivers. Perhaps this is necessary move given the thousands of lives lost to drunk drivers. Speaking as a criminal defense attorney, there’s serious question as to whether people commit these violations purely out of willful disregard for the law and for the safety of others or because of an untreated mental illness or alcohol addiction. Nevertheless, public outcry has led to increased sentences.

Many attorneys in Whatcom County and Skagit County claim to represent clients in DUI cases, but not all attorneys have the experience and successes of attorney Alexander F. Ransom.  To learn more about DUI laws or if you have been charged with a driving offense, make your first call count. Call the Law Office of Alexander F. Ransom today.

New Washington Driver’s-License Exam Tackles Pot & Cellphone Risks

A recent news article by reporter E.J. Smith III of the Seattle Times reports that today’s driver’s license exams require not only a more thorough understanding of longstanding traffic laws but also an understanding of the risks associated with smartphones and the legalization of pot.

“We wanted to add more information about impaired driving beyond the information about driving while intoxicated,” said Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield. “With all the growth of cellphone use … we wanted to make sure that type of information was highlighted in the driver’s guide and test.”

E.J. Smith III reports these driving issues are timely and should be addressed. For example, he quotes a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that teen drivers spend nearly a quarter of their driving time distracted. Additionally, one in six drivers involved in fatal crashes in Washington in 2014 had recently used marijuana, which is the most recent data available. Finally, according to the NSC preliminary estimates, 567 people died in motor-vehicle crashes in Washington last year, a 21 percent increase over 2014. Nationally, the increase was 8 percent.

“The old test didn’t have any questions on distractions,” said Nur Hassan, who has run MLK Simple Driving School in Seattle for three years. “Driving is very serious business, so people should not try to take it lightly or try to put in other distractions.”

My opinion? Kudos to the Department of Licensing for addressing issues of distracted driving and marijuana use. This is an excellent step in the right direction. Today’s teen driver’s need to know the risks of their driving behavior.

I practice a wide range of criminal defense, everything from low-level misdemeanors to Federal charges. I’m honored to represent them through difficult times. I’ve assisted clients who are minors charged with various forms of DUI (drugs as well as alcohol). Many didn’t know the slightest amount of alcohol or drugs in their system can lead to DUI charges. Others didn’t know the repercussions of their actions.

I’m a firm believer that education is the key to prevention. That said, if you’re interested in more information on these issues then please review my Drug DUI practice area and my Legal Guide titled Drug DUI’s in Washington: The Issues & Recent Case Law.

AAA Questions Marijuana DUI Laws

According to a news article from the Chicago Tribune, recent studies conducted by car insurer AAA find that blood tests given to drivers suspected of marijuana DUI have no scientific basis.

A handful of studies released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers can have a low level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their blood and be unsafe behind the wheel, while others with relatively high levels may not be a hazard. Below are the individual studies accompanied by capsule summaries comprising the effort:

“If you’ve had marijuana whether it’s medicinal or otherwise, don’t drive,” said AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher, “It’s really that simple.”

The studies examined the results of more than 5,300 people nationwide who were arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, 600 of whom tested positive for THC only, while the others had THC and other substances. This is because marijuana isn’t metabolized by the body in the same way as alcohol. The researchers compared the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) exam results of 602 drivers that only had THC present in their blood at the time of arrest to those of 349 volunteers that took the test drug-free and sober. Ultimately, the degree to which a driver is impaired by marijuana use depends a lot on the individual, the foundation said.

The data appears confusing because AAA also looked at Washington – one of the first states to legalize marijuana – and found fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled.

“ In most recent data 1 in 6 drivers who are involved in a fatal crash there had marijuana in there system,” Mosher  said.  “And as more and more states look at legalizing marijuana we see this as a concerning trend.”

Nevertheless, AAA is sending the message that the legal limits established for marijuana are arbitrary. A handful of states have moved to specify the maximum amount of active THC — the main chemical in marijuana — that drivers can have in their system. But AAA says that doesn’t work.

“We think those are meaningless,” said Mosher. “They are not backed by any science. One person can have one limit of THC in their blood and be significantly impaired and others can have that same limit and not be impaired at all,” Mosher said.

Many in law enforcement and AAA say that officer recognition of impaired drivers is really the only what to determine whether someone is too high to drive.  Of course all of this a public safety concerns as pot becomes legal across the country.

The Neurology of Risky Driving Behavior

A very interesting article from the Association for Psychological Science discusses how a team of Canadian psychological scientists is looking at the personality, cognitive, and neurobiological factors that contribute to reckless driving behavior. By better understanding the patterns of emotional processing and risk perception shown by repeat offenders, the researchers hope to design interventions that more effectively target these subgroups of dangerous drivers.

The evidence certainly exists. According to the article, drunk driving accounts for 35-40% of all driver fatalities in Canada and the United States, and drunk driving crashes kill more than 10,000 Americans every year. Amazingly, an estimated 30% of DUI offenders will continue to drink and drive, even after being arrested and punished.

“Surprisingly, these drivers usually don’t consider themselves as risk takers,” lead author Thomas G. Brown of McGill University said. “If drivers don’t believe they are risky, they will not accept the need to change. On the other hand, if we and they don’t understand their behavior, how can they be expected to change it effectively?”

The study began when Brown and his colleagues recruited four groups of male drivers who had different criminal histories: 36 men with at least two convictions for drunk driving (DUI group); 28 reckless drivers with at least three speeding violations in the past two years (speeders); 27 men with arrests for both DUI and speeding (DWI-speeders); and 47 low-risk drivers with no history of serious traffic offenses (control group).

According to the article, participants completed a battery of personality and impulsivity assessments, ranging from a Big Five personality measure to an executive control task that assessed their sensitivity to punishment and reward. Participants’ cortisol response, a hormonal reaction to stress, was measured by collecting saliva samples before and after they completed a timed mental arithmetic task previously shown to elicit stress.

Even more interesting, participants also completed a session of simulated driving that included driving on virtual highways, merging lanes, turning at intersections, and avoiding pedestrians.

The researchers found that different subgroups of risky drivers had distinctive neurobiological profiles. Compared to the low-risk control group, speeders were prone to making decisions based on thrill-seeking and a need for high levels of stimulation. Repeat DUI offenders, in contrast, had the lowest level of risk-taking behavior while sober.

“One possibility in line with the present results is that once heavy drinking has occurred, more impulsive drivers are more vulnerable to alcohol’s disruptive effects on the behavioral control mechanisms required to avoid DWI,” the researchers explain.

All of the dangerous driving groups exhibited significant blunting in their cortisol stress response compared with the control group. Cortisol, along with other stress hormones, influences cognitive processes that range from risk assessment to encoding emotional memories. These results suggest that dysregulation of the body’s cortisol response could act as a neurobiological marker for risky driving behavior.

“Relative to the other [risky driving] profiles considered here, the profile exhibited by group DUI may be the most amenable to interventions that aim to augment recall of the negative consequences of DUI behavior and pre-emptively decouple alcohol use from driving,” the researchers conclude.

Stated differently, interventions designed to improve drivers’ recall of the negative consequences of drinking and driving are effective for preventing drunk driving. This explains the findings why repeat DUI offenders had the lowest level of risk-taking behavior while sober.

My opinion? The study is interesting, for sure. Not surprisingly, the criminal justice system uses many of these these psychological deterrents to “decouple alcohol use from driving.” When it comes to DUI cases, gaining a worthwhile reduction of the charges often means the defendant obtaining an alcohol/drug evaluation, attending mandatory treatment, attending AA meetings and attending a Victim Impact Panel. Additionally, the financial costs of DUI fines and mandatory ignition interlock devices are constant reminders to DUI offenders that future risky behavior is simply not worth it.

That said, hiring a competent DUI attorney to fight DUI charges might be a worthy endeavor. The basic legal issues surrounding a DUI arrest are (1) whether the stop was lawful, (2) whether there was enough evidence to arrest, (3) whether the officer informed the defendant of Implied Consent Warnings, and (4) whether the defendant either (a) refused the BAC breathalyzer machine or (b) blew over .08 and/or had .05 nanograms of active THC in their blood when pulled over.

If you’re charged with DUI, the best advice is to immediately contact a competent DUI defense attorney to discuss your case. Good luck!

Proposed Law Would Require Bartenders to Cut Drunk People Off

A news article written by S.E. Smith of www.care2.com reveals that a new bill was introduced into the California State Assembly that would require bartending personnel and managers to undergo training in how to handle alcohol and cut off intoxicated customers.

Under the Responsible Interventions for Beverage Servers Training Act of 2016 (RIBS), Assembly Bill 2121 would require bartenders to intervene when a bar customer has had too much to drink. The law, which if passed would go into effect in 2020, hopes to save lives decrease DUI, and curb drunk drivers. Bartenders would be required to complete a minimum of four training hours on subjects like recognizing intoxication and understanding the physical and social effects of alcohol. The course would also examine state laws surrounding beverage service. Every three years, participants would need to renew their certifications.

Although the California Business & Professions Code reveals that bartenders have always practiced some discretion in this area, the bill would create a more robust legal framework and provide bars with specific training requirements for staff. Furthermore, the legislation would ensure that bartenders across the state follow the same curriculum when they learn how to interact with customers.

According to S.E. Smith, one of the most frustrating parts of the job can involve making judgement calls about when someone has had too much to drink and needs to go home. Some states – including Washington State – have “cut off” laws requiring bartenders to stop serving intoxicated customers. Most have laws barring service to people who are already drunk. Individual bars also have their own policies and procedures for handling customers.

Drunk drivers are the main concern here. Intoxicated people who hurt themselves — an uninsured person who requires care for a broken limb, for instance —  may create public health nuisances and expenses. However, when intoxicated people get in cars, the decision can be fatal.

S.E. Smith emphasizes that 30 people die as a result of drunk driving every day in the United States, including sober drivers in other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. One third of traffic deaths can be attributed to intoxicated driving.

My opinion? Similar to Ms. Smith, this bill is a step in the right direction. Many of my DUI clients tell me they were over-served at the bars they frequented before being pulled over for DUI. It helps to have backup — like policies a bartender can apply — to remind a customer that they’re breaking the law if they kept serving.

Stoned Drivers Hit Test Course To Evaluate Marijuana DUI Limits

An article from the Denver Huffington Post addressed an interesting question regarding the regulation of legal marijuana: how high is too high to drive?

Given the lack of precedent, Washington TV station KIRO opted to observe actions over words. The station assembled a group of volunteers, had them smoke pot (appropriately, the strain was called “blueberry train wreck”), and set them loose on a driving test course.

Here’s the video.

A handful of police officers stood nearby, watching any telltale signs of stoned driving. Also, a driving school instructor sat in the passenger’s seat, ready to take the wheel or stomp the brake pedal at a moment’s notice.

Unfortunately, the results (while entertaining) don’t add much clarity to the question at all. A regular smoker of marijuana tested above the legal limit to begin with, yet drove without much of a problem (at least initially). Two casual smokers also navigated the course without incident. (Spoiler alert: after smoking more marijuana, things devolve quickly).

In 2012, Colorado legislators declined to pass a law that would have limited drivers to 5 nanograms of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, per milliliter of blood.

“This is a bit of unprecedented territory, so trying to find the right approach has proven difficult and cumbersome,” explained Rep. Dan Pabon, a lawmaker on Colorado’s marijuana-legalizing task force, to CBS News in 2012.

Washington lawmakers, meanwhile, passed a law in 2012 setting the threshold for legal impairment at 5 nanograms of THC, reports NPR.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to common sense. Explains Bob Calkins, a Washington State Patrol spokesman, to The Oregonian, “We don’t just pull people over and draw blood… If you’re driving OK, we’re not going pull you over. But driving impaired is still driving impaired.”

Lower Legal Alcohol Limit?

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the nationwide legal limit of .08 cut almost in half to .05, in an effort to save more lives.

Oddly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the nation’s most prominent advocacy group against drunk driving, does not support the legislation. MADD says there’s not enough data to show it would make much of a difference.

“Until we know that and can compare that and have an intellectual conversation on that, we want to focus on what we know is effective,” said Jason Derscheid, the Executive Director of MADD North Texas.

The organization most recently helped pass an interlock ignition law in Texas, allowing DWI offenders to have a device installed on their car. MADD has found that the alternative, suspending an offender’s license, doesn’t prevent them from continuing to drink and drive.

It’s advocating for similar laws to be passed in all 50 states.

Despite its lack of support for lowering the legal limit, MADD says it does not condone any level of drinking of driving.

“The only safe way to get home is to have a non-drinking, designated driver,” said Derscheid.

 

“Studies” Show Pot-Related Accidents Doubled from 2013-2014

 

 

Newly released data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) shows that marijuana is increasing as a factor in deadly crashes. The number of marijuana-impaired drivers involved in accidents has nearly doubled at a 48% increase from 2013 to 2014.

“We have seen marijuana involvement in fatal crashes remain steady over the years, and then it just spiked in 2014,” said Dr. Staci Hoff, WTSC Data and Research Director.

Also , Julie Furlong of the WTSC said 60% of the drivers involved in fatal or deadly crashes between 2010 and 2014 were tested for drugs. Of those tested, about 20% were positive for pot. These figures match those of previous years, they remained about the same year after year.

New testing and new analytics are now allowing the WTSC to determine specific THC levels at the time the driver is tested following an incident or crash. It’s called “active THC,” or enough to impair the driver’s coordination and judgement.  According to the WTSC, less than half of drivers who tested positive for pot in 2010 had active TCH. However, that number increased to 65% in 2013, and skyrocketed to 85% in 2014.

Dr.Staci Hoff, Data and Research Director for the Commission, says that simply means 85% of the drivers involved in deadly-fatal collisions in 2014 who had pot in their system were actually high at the time of the accident.

Young men between the ages of 21-25 have seen the greatest jump,  with over a 66% increase.

Some argue these facts show that since the legalization of marijuana in Washington state, we now face a potential epidemic of impaired drivers who are high behind the wheel. As a consequence, the National Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign is gaining momentum. From now through Labor Day, extra law enforcement officers are patrolling areas and locations where DUI is a problem.

Over 100 law enforcement agencies including all districts of the Washington State Patrol will be teaming up and participating in the extra patrols all across the state. These extra patrols are all part of Target Zero—striving to end traffic deaths and serious injuries in Washington by 2030.

My opinion?

First, only 60% of fatal car crash victims were tested for drugs. Without understanding how this 60% was arrived at, we run the risk of a data selection bias.

Second, if 20% of the group tested positive for marijuana then this only reflects the actual percentage of cannabis users in the state; which, by itself, is not a very convincing argument of anything.

Third, we need more data. You can’t jump to conclusions based on data that’s too new. It needs more time to be compared against other factors. We don’t hear anything else about possible confounding factors to this data, which also raises serious suspicions. However even this admission whittles marijuana as the sole culprit down to maximum of 10% of all fatal crashes.

Fourth, the data comes on the heels of new DUI emphasis patrols. Sounds like a media spin to me.

Finally, what we really need to know is how many fatal accidents occurred solely for users of marijuana over the limit. This number would be the best indication of a causal relationship if confounding factors were accounted for and the sample size was unbiased.