Category Archives: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Fourth of July is One of the Deadliest Days For Drunk Driving

Image result for drunk driving fourth of july

Excellent news article by reporter German Lopez of Vox discusses how the Fourth of July is among the deadliest days for drunk driving every year, thanks to people both drinking and driving more.

According to an analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, between 2010 and 2014, July 4 had the second highest percent of car crash deaths that were linked to alcohol, and July 3 was also in the top 10.

Lopez gives a scale on how the 10 deadliest days broke down, with the percentage noting how many of the car crash deaths involved a blood alcohol level of 0.08 g/dL or more:

  1. January 1: 62 percent (364 of 591 car crash deaths)
  2. July 4: 47 percent (278 of 592 car crash deaths)
  3. December 24: 41 percent (191 of 461 car crash deaths)
  4. February 6: 41 percent (151 of 366 car crash deaths)
  5. July 24: 41 percent (207 of 502 car crash deaths)
  6. July 3: 41 percent (219 of 533 car crash deaths)
  7. March 9: 41 percent (161 of 396 car crash deaths)
  8. December 25: 41 percent (137 of 338 car crash deaths)
  9. April 21: 40 percent (176 of 435 car crash deaths)
  10. April 17: 40 percent (176 of 438 car crash deaths)

Also, Lopez reported that although drunk driving deaths have plummeted over the past few decades. In 1981, drunk driving killed more than 21,000 people. By 2015, that figure was cut in half. An array of reforms played a big role in that reduction, including raising the legal alcohol age to 21, pushing police to take the enforcement of drunk driving laws much more seriously, and general improvements in car and traffic safety.

But much of that action happened in the 1980s and ’90s, when MADD and other advocacy groups came together in a strong, well-funded effort to take drunk driving more seriously. Since then, the issue has fallen off the national radar.

 Alcohol’s problems extend far beyond drunk driving as well. Alcohol is linked to at least 88,000 deaths in the US each year, only about an eighth of which are driving-related. That estimate comes from 2006 through 2010, but more recent data suggests that at least some alcohol deaths are trending up: Between 2010 and 2015, the number of alcohol-induced deaths (those that involve direct health complications from alcohol, like liver cirrhosis) rose from less than 26,000 to more than 33,000.

Based on the research, there is also a lot more that America could be doing to prevent alcohol-related deaths — yet there is little media or public attention to this issue, so there is little pressure for lawmakers to put this research into action. The result is that one of the big causes of death in America continues to kill thousands of people a year.

DEALING WITH INCREASED DEATH TOLLS RELATED TO ALCOHOL ABUSE.

Lopez points out that when Americans think about alcohol policy, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Prohibition, which effectively banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933. That solution, of course, did not work. Still, Lopez suggests the following other policies could help address the negative safety impacts of drinking.

  • A higher alcohol tax: A 2010 review of the research in the American Journal of Public Health came out with strong findings: “Our results suggest that doubling the alcohol tax would reduce alcohol-related mortality by an average of 35%, traffic crash deaths by 11%, sexually transmitted disease by 6%, violence by 2%, and crime by 1.4%.”
  • Reducing the number of alcohol outlets: A 2009 review published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also found that limiting the number of alcohol outlets (such as liquor stores) in an area through stricter licensing, for example, can limit problematic drinking and its dangers. But it also found that going too far can have negative results — by, for example, causing more car crashes as people take longer drives to outlets and possibly drink before returning home.
  • Revoking alcohol offenders’ right to drink: South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety programeffectively revokes people’s right to drink if a court deems it necessary after an alcohol-related offense. The program, specifically, monitors offenders through twice-a-day breathalyzer tests or a bracelet that can track blood alcohol level, and jails them for one or two days for each failed test. Studies from the RAND Corporation have linked the program to drops in mortality, DUI arrests, and domestic violence arrests.
  • Put state governments in charge of selling alcohol: A 2014 report from RAND concluded that when state governments monopolize alcohol sales through state-run shops, they can keep prices higher, reduce access to youth, and reduce overall levels of use.

These are just a few of the ideas that experts have put out there. There are many more ways to curtail alcohol consumption and misuse without outright banning it.

Maybe these policies still go too far for some people. Different individuals will likely disagree on whether these proposals go too far in restricting personal liberty, even if they do save some lives. But the research suggests such policies are at least worth considering.

Yet lawmakers have paid very little attention to alcohol policy. As Philip Cook, a public policy expert at Duke University who wrote Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control, told Mr. Lopez, the last time Congress raised the federal alcohol tax was 1991 — and that has let the actual impact of the tax erode due to increasing inflation:

“The great opportunity we have is to restore taxes to the real value that they had a few decades ago. That’s justified by the current social costs of drinking, and would have all kinds of beneficial effects, while being justified just from the point of view that drinkers should pay for the damage that they do.”

My opinion? I share Mr. Lopez’s argument that part of the problem is that policymakers just don’t feel much pressure to act on these kinds of public health problems — at least in the same way they feel compelled to act on an issue like, say, terrorism. So thousands of needless deaths continue happening in America every year, including hundreds this Fourth of July.

However, if you; a friend or family member is pulled over for alcohol-related driving, contact a qualified, competent criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The consequences of DUI – ranging from jail, to high court fines to suspended/revoked drivers  licenses are too great to be trifled with.

Lower .08 to .05?

Image result for dui bac .05

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.

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.

Refusing Field Sobriety Test is Admissible as “Consciousness of Guilt.”

In State v. Mecham, the WA Supreme Court decided that Prosecutors in DUI trials may admit evidence that a defendant is declining field sobriety tests as evidence of consciousness of guilt.

FACTS

In 2011, Officer Campbell made a traffic stop of defendant Mark Tracy Mecham. Although Mecham’s driving showed no signs of intoxication, Mecham smelled of intoxicants and had slurred speech. The officer asked Mecham to perform voluntary field sobriety tests (FSTs), which would have involved Officer Campbell’s observing Mecham’s eye movements and ability to walk a straight line and stand on one leg. Mecham refused.

At trial, Mecham moved to suppress his refusal to perform the FSTs. Typically, trial courts grant this defense motion. In Mecham’s case, however, the trial court denied his motion and ruled that even if FSTs were a search, probable cause supported the search. Mecham’s refusal was admitted to the jury as evidence to support the Prosecutor’s theory that Mecham exhibited “Consciousness of Guilt.” The jury found Mecham guilty of DUI.

Eventually, Mecham’s case was appealed to the WA Supreme Court. He argued that his right to be free from unreasonable searches was violated when the trial court admitted evidence of his refusal to undergo FSTs.

THE DECISION

Unfortunately for Mecham, the WA Supreme Court disagreed and upheld his DUI conviction. In a deeply divided decision, the Court held that while a FST is a seizure, it is not a search either under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution or under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The State may, therefore, offer evidence of a defendant’s refusal to perform FSTs. Field sobriety tests may only be administered when the initial traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion and the officer has reasonable suspicion that the defendant was driving under the influence.

The lead majority opinion was authored by Justice Wiggins. Justice Fairhurst concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Fairhurst would prohibit the administration of FSTs once the defendant is already under formal arrest for an offense other then DUI. Justice Johnson dissented on the grounds that the defendant had been told by the officer who administered the FSTs that they were voluntary. Finally, Justice Gordon McCloud dissented on the grounds that FSTs are searches.

My opinion?

I agree with Justice McCloud’s dissent. Here’s a portion:

“An FST can reveal information about a person’s body and medical history that are unquestionably private in nature. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in addition to possible inebriation, FSTs can reveal a head injury, neurological disorder, brain tumors or damage, and some inner ear diseases. These conditions are not necessarily observable in the subject’s normal public behavior; they may well be revealed only by the special maneuvers the subject is directed to perform during the FST. Indeed, if an FST did not reveal information beyond what is readily observable by the general public, there would be no need to administer it in the first place. I therefore conclude that FSTs are searches under article I, section 7 of our state constitution.”

FSTs are a search. Period. Clearly, Officers who ask citizens to performs FSTs are seeking evidence of DUI. Because FSTs are a search, Mecham had a constitutional right to refuse to perform them unless (1) the officers had a warrant, or (2) an exception to the warrant requirement applied. Here, the Officer neither possessed or obtained a warrant for a blood test. Nor did the Officer even attempt to get a warrant.

Even more concerning, Prosecutors now have free reign to spin a citizen’s refusal of FSTs as “consciousness of guilt.” That’s unfair. Indeed, there’s a lot of debate in criminal law on whether FSTs accurately and/or scientifically indicate whether someone is DUI. These tests are, quite simply, balancing and memory tests administered under extremely uncomfortable and stressful conditions. These tests – which more of less reflect bad balance, lack of memory and preexisting health issues – simply do not accurately depict intoxication.

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!

The “Textalyzer” Battles Distracted Driving & Works Like A Breathalyzer

 

A police officer uses a prototype of a Textalyzer to check for texting activity on a phone. A proposed law in New York would allow police to use the technology in much the same way they use a Breathalyzer.

A very interesting and well-written news article by reporter Matt Richtel of the New York Times discussed how lawmakers from New York want to treat distracted driving like drunken driving. The newest idea is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.

The idea certainly carries momentum. Richtel wrote that over the last seven years, most states have banned texting by drivers, and public service campaigns have tried many tactics — “It can wait,” among them — to persuade people to ignore their phones when driving their cars.

Nevertheless, the problem appears to be getting worse. Americans confess in surveys that they are still texting while driving, as well as using Facebook and Snapchat and taking selfies. Richtel’s article emphasized that road fatalities, which had fallen for years, are now rising sharply, up roughly 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year, according to preliminary estimates. That is partly because people are driving more, but Mark Rosekind, the chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said distracted driving was “only increasing, unfortunately.”

In response, legislators and public health experts want to treat distracted driving like drunken driving. The most provocative idea is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.

Richtel explained it would work like this: an officer arriving at the scene of a crash could ask for the phones of any drivers involved and use the Textalyzer to tap into the operating system to check for recent activity.

The technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, email or do anything else that is forbidden under New York’s hands-free driving laws, which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ear. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer.

Richtel described how the proposed legislation faces hurdles to becoming a law, including privacy concerns. But Félix W. Ortiz, a Democratic assemblyman who was a sponsor of the bipartisan Textalyzer bill, said it would not give the police access to the contents of any emails or texts. It would simply give them a way to catch multitasking drivers, he said.

If the legislation passed in New York, it could be adopted by other states in the same way that the hands-free rules did after New York adopted them.

 

Drowsy Driving

An recent news article by Krithika Varagur of the Huffington Post discusses the oft-ignored epidemic of how sleep deprivation has severe effects on performance. Staying awake for 24 hours is equivalent to having a BAC of 0.08 percent, which is legally drunk.

The evidence exists. For example, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that drowsy driving is linked to about 100,000 car crashes every year. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined the average number of accidents linked to sleep deprivation between 2005 and 2009 to be about 83,000 per year. Finally, studies by the American Automobile Association estimate that more than 300,000 accidents each year involve a drowsy driver, with 6,400 resulting in someone’s death.

Varagur says that despite these staggering numbers, only two states in the U.S. have any laws against “drowsy driving,” and even these are largely symbolic and tough to enforce.

Problematically, it’s difficult to prove that drowsy drivers were, in fact, asleep at the wheel while driving. “The burden of proof in drowsy driving cases falls almost totally on police officers,” Jeff Evans, program manager of the National Sleep Foundation, told Varagur of The Huffington Post. “Barring a confession from the accused driver, it is very difficult to prove that someone was sleep-deprived.”

New Jersey became the first state to pass drowsy driving legislation in 2003 with “Maggie’s Law,” which says that if a driver kills someone after not sleeping for more than 24 hours, the driver can be charged with vehicular homicide.  “Maggie’s Law” was the result of a campaign by Carole McDonnell, whose daughter Maggie was killed in a 1997 car crash by a van driver who had smoked crack and hadn’t slept in 30 hours. The driver’s case resolved with him paying a $200 fine because the jury could not consider driver fatigue as a factor of guilt.

Again, however, the law is difficult to enforce because it requires the driver to admit sleeplessness in court. Also, there’s no test yet to prove someone is sleep-deprived. In the decade since the law’s passage, only one person has been prosecuted under it for driving while fatigued.

In 2013, Arkansas passed a similar law that allows the state to charge a driver with “negligent homicide” in a fatal crash if the driver hasn’t slept in 24 hours.

At the moment, the issue of drowsy driving lacks the strong political will that drunk driving had. Mothers Against Drunk Driving helped reduce alcohol-related accidents dramatically in the 1980s, and in the 1990s, Harvard public health professor Jay Winsten led a national “designated driver” campaign to popularize one possible solution for the drunk driving crisis. Both these efforts elevated the problem of drunk driving in the American public consciousness.

My opinion? It’s terrible to say, but I don’t know if criminalizing this behavior through legislation is the proper solution. Again, “drowsy driving” is very hard to prove unless a police officer or witness actually saw the driver asleep. And although police might get the driver to admit they were sleeping, these incriminating statements can be suppressed, explained away or justified at trial.

There’s a range of opinions on how best to address the problem, and not all of them include legislation.

New App Tries Reducing Drunk Driving Deaths

 

A news article from NR Today, an Oregon newspaper, reported the Oregon Department of Transportation is pushing a new smartphone application that hopes to help impaired drivers get home safely. Read more here.

In short, the app, titled SaferRide, is a mobile phone program developed by the NHTSA and allows users to call a taxi or a friend. It shows the app users their location so they can easily be picked up.

New data from NHTSA shows that drunk driving deaths declined by 2.5 percent in 2013. Yet, even with this decrease from the previous year, 10,076 people died in crashes involving a drunk driver in 2013 — one death every 52 minutes. December 2013 was the month with the lowest number of drunk driving fatalities, 733 lives lost.

“This app easily and simply helps someone who is impaired get a ride or summon friends and do what it takes to get home safely,” said Dan Estes, DUII program manager for ODOT, in a release. “This app can accomplish a lot, and people need to know it’s available.”

Impaired driving can come from alcohol, over the counter or prescription drugs, illegal or recreational drugs, or other substances.

Representatives from ODOT, Clackamas County, Washington County, Oregon Impact, the City of Portland, OLCC, TriMet, OHSU ThinkFirst, AAA, Oregon Health Authority and Trauma Nurses Talk Tough came up with the idea while brainstorming ideas to tackle Oregon’s rise in crashes.

The app is available for Android devices on Google Play and Apple devices on the iTunes store.

Most Strict & Most Lenient States For DUIs

Here’s a new and interesting study: Which states are the toughest on DUI? WalletHub compared the enforcement rules in all 50 states and D.C. to find out.

Most Strict Most Lenient
1-      Arizona 1-      South Dakota
2-      Alaska 2-      District of Columbia
3-      Connecticut 3-      Pennsylvania
4-      West Virginia 4-      North Dakota
5-      Kansas 5-      Maryland
6-      Nebraska 6-      Montana
7-      Utah 7-      Wisconsin
8-      Virginia 8-      Kentucky
9-      Washington 9-      Vermont
9-      Georgia 10-   Ohio
9-      Delaware 10-   New Jersey

Here’s more raw data:

  • First time offenders should expect to spend, on average, a minimum 1 day in jail, while those who are at their second offense should expect at least 21 days in jail.
  • Arizona has the longest minimum jail term for first time offenders (a minimum of 10 days), while West Virginia has the longest minimum sentence for second time offenders (180 days).
  • In 37 states, alcohol abuse assessment and/or treatment is mandatory, and in 39, local law enforcement regularly sets up sobriety checkpoints.
  • On average expect to have your license suspended for at least 3 months after being stopped for a DUI – even before trial – as most states “administratively” suspend licenses after arrest. Georgia will suspend a license for the longest period (up to 12 months), while 7 states do not have administrative license suspensions.
  • After a first arrest with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more, an “ignition Interlock device” is mandatory in 24 states. In another 14 states, this device is mandatory after a first offense only if BAC is above .15. In 7 states, these devices are mandatory only after a second offense, and in 6 states the device is never required.
  • Red states are stricter on DUIs, with an average ranking of 23.0, compared to 28.2 for blue states (1 = Strictest).

Washington State ranked #9 among the Top 10.

The Methodology used was interesting. WalletHub examined 15 key metrics to evaluate which states are strictest and which are most lenient for DUI offenses. Each variable is weighted so that the toughest ones, like jail sentences, and those shown to have the biggest impact on repeat offenders, like ignition interlock devices, are weighted more heavily. The metrics used and the weight given to them are detailed below:

Criminal Penalties:

  1. A) Minimum jail time (for 1st offense, minimum sentence only)
  • 10 days and over (10 points)
  • 8 – 9 days (8 points)
  • 6 -7 days (6 points)
  • 4 – 5 days (4 points)
  • 2 – 3 days (2 points)
  • 0 – 1 day (0 points)

              B) Minimum jail time (for 2nd offense, minimum sentence only)

  • 60 days and over (7 points)
  • 50 – 59 days (6 points)
  • 40 – 49 days (5 points)
  • 30 – 39 days (4 points)
  • 20 – 29 days (3 points)
  • 10 – 19 days (1 point)
  • Under 10 days (0 points)

2. When is DUI automatically considered a felony?

  • 2nd offense (5 points)
  • 3rd offense (4 points)
  • 4th offense (2 points)
  • 5th offense (1 point)
  • Never (0 points)

3. How long does a previous DUI factor into penalties for a new DUI?

  • More than 12 years (4 points)
  • 12 years (3 points)
  • 10 years (2 points)
  • 7 years (1 point)
  • Under 7 years (0 points)

4. Are there additional penalties for high BAC?

  • Over 0.10 (3 points)
  • Over 0.15 (2 points)
  • Over 0.16 or higher (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

5. A) Minimum fine (for 1st offense, minimum sentence only)

  • $1000 and over (3 points)
  • $600 – $999 (2 points)
  • $200 – $599 (1 point)
  • Under $200 (0 points)

      B) Minimum fine (for 2nd offense, minimum sentence only)

  • $2000 and over (2 points)
  • $1200 – $1999 (1 point)
  • $400 – $1199 (0.5 points)
  • Under $400 (0 points)

6. Protection against child endangerment

  • Yes (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

         Prevention:

7. When is an ignition interlock mandatory?

  • 1st conviction with 0.08 BAC (5 points)
  • 1st conviction with 0.15 BAC (4 points)
  • 2nd conviction (2 points)
  • Not mandatory (0 points)

8. Is there an “administrative” license suspension after arrest (and before conviction)?

  • 6 months or more (4 points)
  • 3-6 months (3 points)
  • Less than 3 months (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

9. How long is ignition interlock mandatory?

  • 6 months or more (3 points)
  • 3-6 months (2 points)
  • Ignition Interlock period determined by court (1 point)

10. Is alcohol abuse assessment and/or treatment mandatory?

  • Yes (2 points)
  • No (0 points)

11. Vehicle Impound After Arrest

  • Yes (2 points)
  • No (0 points)

12. Average insurance rate increase after DUI.

  • 100% or more increased cost (1 point)
  • Above 75% increase in cost (0.75 points)
  • Above 50% increase in cost (0.50 points)
  • Above 25% increase in cost (0.25 points)
  • Under 25% increase in cost (0 points)

13. “No-refusal” initiative for rapid search warrants for sobriety testing

  • Yes (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

14. Sobriety checkpoints?

Yes (1 point) No (0 points)

15. Other penalties

  • If a state has any other penalties (1 point)
  • No other penalties (0 points)

Total: 55 points.

The Overall Rank was determined by how many points each state accumulated. The highest score – for the strictest state, which was Arizona – was ranked 1.

The data is interesting to interpret. The study said that since the 1980s, when states first began to crack down on drunk driving, the rate of impaired driving and the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers has dropped considerably. This has meant many saved lives, as drunk driving fatalities declined 52 percent from 1982 to 2013.

The study also mentioned some of this change was attributed to evolving social attitudes. Also, new, tougher penalties for those caught driving under the influence have also had an impact, especially in reducing the number of repeat violators. For example, almost half the states now require all convicted DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device in any vehicles they will be driving. These devices analyze the driver’s breath and won’t permit the car to start if alcohol is detected. The study mentioned that the federal government estimates that these devices have reduced re-arrest rates of DUI offenders by 67 percent.

My opinion? The constant lobbying from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute have driven legislators to enact tougher laws of the the years.

Distracted Driving Crashes Worse Than Previously Suspected

Other reports found that Smartphone technology increased the use of cellphones by drivers beyond basic calls and texts -- including Social Media and GPS applications.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, but a new study suggests a far bigger problem.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which released a 2012 study using statistics based on police reports, previously estimated that teen distracted driving constituted 14 percent of all collisions. That study showed that teen drivers were distracted almost a quarter of the time they were behind the wheel.  Electronic devices, such as texting, emails, and downloading music, were among the biggest distractions, accounting for 7% of the distractions identified on the study video.

However, a study released in March by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety which used live footage instead of police reports. Their latest study on distracted driving found a 400 percent increase and concluded that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes. AAA analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle cameras they knew were in their cars.

Teen Driver Distraction Crashes Infographic

My opinion? Eventually, “Distracted Driving” will be criminalized. It took decades for statistics on fatal drunken driving crashes to translate into tougher DWI laws. I’m sure that advocates for strict laws against cellphone use by drivers encounter the same detached attitude today.