Category Archives: Reckless Driving

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.

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.

 

“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.

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.

Study: Marijuana and Alcohol Doubles Odds for DUI

Alcohol & Marijuana: A Dangerous Combination

Marijuana is becoming increasingly legalized in the US for medical and recreational use. A new study analyzes the simultaneous use of alcohol and marijuana. In short, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving, social consequences, and harm to self and others.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2005 and 2010 National Alcohol Survey (n=8,626; 4,522 females, 4,104 males). This was a Random Digit Dial, Computer Assisted Telephone Interview survey of individuals aged 18 and older from all 50 states and DC. Blacks and Hispanics were over-sampled. The study authors assessed differences in demographics, alcohol-related social consequences, harms to self, and drunk driving across simultaneous, concurrent, and alcohol-only using groups.

“We looked at three groups of adults,” explained Meenakshi S. Subbaraman, a corresponding author for the study and associate scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, a program of the Public Health Institute. “One, those who used only alcohol in the previous 12 months; two, those who used both alcohol and cannabis but always separately, or concurrently; and three, those who used both alcohol and cannabis and usually together, or simultaneously.

According to the study, simultaneous users did not necessarily always use cannabis while they drank; the groups were based on how often they drank when using cannabis, and not vice versa.

The study authors found that, compared to adults who solely used alcohol, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving, social consequences, and harms to self. Compared to concurrent users, simultaneous users had double the odds of drunk driving. Simultaneous users also had the heaviest drinking patterns in terms of quantity and frequency.

The research brought interesting conclusions. “If cannabis use becomes more prevalent as U.S. states and other countries continue to legalize it, then we need to be prepared to advise people appropriately,” cautioned Subbaraman. “If you use both substances together, your risk of drunk driving, and possibly other consequences, may be higher than if you stick to using one at a time.”

The study appears in the May 2015 online issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

State v. King: Out-Of-Jurisdiction Police Cannot Arrest Unless Emergency Exists

Excellent opinion.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=809488MAJ

Tyler King was riding his motorcycle southbound on Interstate 5 north of Vancouver city limits when he was stopped and issued a criminal citation for reckless driving by Vancouver police officer Jeff Starks. King had stood up on the pegs of his motorcycle, looked at the vehicle he was approaching, and  accelerated to pass the vehicle. King and Starks both testified at the trial, offering different interpretations of the facts. Starks offered opinion testimony that King’s driving had been reckless, which King’s attorney did not object to at trial but then raised on appeal. King also challenged that the officer was outside of his jurisdiction without an interlocal agreement and without satisfying the statutory emergency exception.

The Supreme Court held that Officer Starks did not have jurisdiction to issue the criminal citation. They reasoned that Stark’s  interpretation of King’s actions would not have constituted “an emergency involving an immediate threat to human life or property.”

King did not nearly hit another car, nor run a light, nor weave across traffic lanes. He did not pop a wheelie, cut off another car, nor, for that matter, drive in reverse along the shoulder. At most, King glared at the driver of the large truck, stood on his foot pegs for three to five seconds, and accelerated at high speed past the truck. As aforementioned, Starks could not verify that King accelerated away at what he thought was 100 m.p.h. Even so, the officer testified King slowed down as he approached other traffic and pulled over immediately when Starks signaled him to do so.

The majority concludes that the trial court was wrong to simply take the definition of reckless driving and assume that it “automatically fit within the emergency exception.” The majority also suggests that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the opinion testimony issue was foreclosed by the lack of an objection at trial.

My opinion?  Again, good decision.  Reckless Driving does not always involve racing, road rage, emergency situations or life-threatening behavior.  Let’s be frank: some people simply enjoy horsing around while driving!  The Supremes rightfully disagreed with the trial court and saw the situation for what it was: people slightly agitated with each other’s driving, a brief increase in speed, and it’s over.  Nobody goes crazy, and/or gets mad, violent or injured.  Period.  It’d be a miscarriage of justice to allow out-of-jurisdiction officers to arrest people based on those circumstances.

X52 Program Leads to Increased DUI Patrols and Arrests

This past Labor Day Weekend, the Washington State Patrol made 296 arrests for suspicion of Driving Under the Influence.  That’s slightly higher than the 292 arrests WSP made over the same weekend in 2008.  In a recent report released by the WSP, there were 44 calls from concerned motorists which led to 20 arrests for suspicion of DUI.  The increased arrests — and inevitable prosecutions — are directly attributed to Washington State Patrol’s (WSP)  implementation of the X52 anti-DUI campaign.

X52 stands for extra patrols 52 weeks per year. The goal of the X52 program is to reduce speeding and DUI-related traffic fatalities and serious injuries on Washington’s roads.

Under the program, Washington Traffic Safety Commission released $450,000 worth of grants to local law enforcement agencies to help them provide additional impaired driving and speed patrols every week of the year.  These sustained enforcement patrols specifically target speed and DUI offenders, as well as look for other traffic violations. The program is being administered statewide through a network of community traffic safety task forces.

The X52 program also includes initiatives designed to let the public know that these extra patrols are happening in Washington every week. $450,000 is budgeted for paid radio advertising and alternative messaging. Earned media efforts will be spearheaded by community traffic safety task forces.

My opinion?  Clearly, the WSP is aggressively campaigning the X52 program.  I foresee even greater DUI patrol this holiday season.  For more information on X52, click the link below.

http://www.wtsc.wa.gov/programs/x52.php

State v. Eriksen: Tribal Officers Can Pursue Suspects Off the Reservation

The WA Supreme Court decided that tribal police officers can pursue motorists beyond the limits of tribal lands after having observed them commit a traffic infraction on the reservation.

A Lummi Nation Police Department officer witnessed a motorist on the reservation driving at night with high beams and drifting across the center divider.  He began following the vehicle and activated his emergency lights.  After traveling a quarter mile the car pulled into a gas station located off the reservation.  The police officer witnessed the driver, Loretta Eriksen, hop over the car’s center console and into the passenger’s seat.  The officer detained Eriksen until a Whatcom County police deputy arrived, who arrested her for DUI.

Ms. Eriksen was convicted for DUI.  The trial court said Lummi Nation’s inherent sovereign power authorizes tribal police to continue in “fresh pursuit” of offenders who drive off the reservation.

The Supreme Court agreed.  It reasoned  that the Lummi Nation is a sovereign nation with inherent authority to enforce its laws and detain Indians or non-Indians who violate those laws.  Courts have long recognized the right of law enforcement officers to cross jurisdictional lines when in hot pursuit of a violator.  The court said this doctrine should apply to sovereign tribal nations as well.  “The Lummi Nation Police Department has authority under the Lummi Nation’s sovereign authority and under the Washington Mutual Aid Peace Officers Powers Act of 1985, chapter 10.93 RCW, to enforce its laws by continuing the ‘fresh pursuit’ of suspects off the reservation and then detaining these suspects until authorities with jurisdiction arrive.”

My opinion?  I’m not surprised.  Recently, the WA Supremes have deciding other “hot pursuit” cases in similar fashion.  Indeed, in State v. Rivera-Santos, a recent case which my blog covered earlier this month, the WA Supremes decided that a defendant, who drove under the influence of alcohol in both Washington and Oregon, could be convicted of a DUI in both states without violating his constitutional rights IF law enforcement was engaged in hot pursuit across state lines.

Additionally, I’ve found the criminal justice system is extra tough on defendants who “elude” law enforcement with high-speed chases.  Eluding is a fairly serious felony, especially if the defendant already has felony convictions on their criminal record.

State v. Rivera-Santos: Why Crossing State Lines – Intoxicated – Is Double Trouble

Should police officers stop pursuit when car chases cross State lines?

We’ve all seen the 70’s police chase movies: rebellious anti-hero leads police on wild car chase, anti-hero crosses state line, the police immediately stop chasing, anti-hero gets out of car, smokes a cigarette in front of enraged officer, the movie ends . . .

. . . unfortunately, if you believe in this Hollywood ending, think again.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfmfa=opinions.showOpinionTextOnly&filename=814457MAJ&printOnly=y

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Fairhurst, the WA Supreme Court determined that the defendant, who drove under the influence of alcohol in both Washington and Oregon, could be convicted of a DUI in both states without violating his constitutional rights.

Rivera-Santos led police on a chase that started on the Washington side of I-5 and ended on the Oregon side. He was found to have a blood-alcohol content level of .17 percennt (more than twice the legal limit), and convicted by an Oregon court of driving under the influence. He was also charged with a DUI in Clark County District Court, but Rivera-Santos argued that it should be dismissed under the constitutional protections against double-jeopardy (i.e. being punished twice for the same crime).

Justice Fairhurst wrote that convicting Rivera-Santos in Washington would not be double-jeopardy, as it was a separate crime.  He drove while drunk in Oregon, and was punished for that by an Oregon court. He also drove while drunk in Washington, and a Washington court could punish him for that separate crime.

My opinion?  If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, then it must be a duck.  Said differently, this legal decision looks like double jeopardy, smells like double jeopardy, therefore it must be double jeopardy.

For those who don’t know, “Double Jeopardy” happens when defendants are prosecuted twice for the same offense.  It’s unconstitutional.  The Double Jeopardy Clause protects against three distinct abuses: [1] a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; [2] a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and [3] multiple punishments for the same offense.’ U.S. v. Halper, 490 U.S. 435, 440 (1989).

Here, the WA Supremes stated that Mr. Rivera-Santos committed two different crimes in two different states.  Fine, I can agree with that.  HOWEVER, I disagree with their decision that charging these crimes is not double jeopardy.  Why do I disagree?  Because these “two crimes” arose from the same facts and circumstances.  Mr. Rivera-Santos did not steal candy from a 7-11 in Oregon, cross State lines, and then steal candy from a 7-11 in Washington.  The crime of DUI is, essentially, driving while intoxicated.   Although Mr. Rivera-Santos drove across State lines while intoxicated, he was DUI only one time during that crossing.  Therefore, he should only be punished once.   Anything more is double jeopardy.

Gotta disagree with the WA Supremes on this one . . . 🙁