Category Archives: Traffic Infractions

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.

Ninth Circuit Strikes Nevada Statutory Scheme Allowing Pretextual Stops

Image result for excuses for traffic stop

In United States v. Orozco, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a statute allowing Nevada law enforcement officers to stop and search commercial vehicles for no reason violates the Fourth Amendment as unlawfully pretextual.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 2013, law enforcement received a tip that defendant Victor Orozco – a commercial truck driver – regularly transported illegal drugs across the border inside his semi truck. Unbeknownst to Orozco, Nevada had a statutory and administrative scheme  allowing its police officers to pull over and search commercial vehicles for contraband under the notion that these searched perform a public safety purpose.

On April 27, 2013, the tipster said Orozco would be driving through White Pine County,
Nevada. Trooper Zehr of the Nevada Highway Patrol was advised of the vehicle and its location. He was told he would have to develop his own probable cause to get the vehicle stopped because there could possibly be drugs in the vehicle, but there was nothing solid.

Troopers targeted Orozco’s truck and pulled it over. They discovered the truck had made several trips across the border. Eventually, a K-9 officer dog arrived and made a positive alert as to the presence of drugs. The troopers found a duffel bag containing twenty-six pounds of methamphetamine and six pounds of heroin in the sleeper compartment.

Prior to trial, Orozco moved to suppress the drug evidence on the ground that the inspection of his vehicle was an impermissible pretext “motivated by a desire to search for evidence of drug trafficking, rather than to conduct a commercial vehicle inspection.” However, because “safety inspections” were part of a facially valid administrative scheme, the district judge held that the stop of Orozco’s truck was lawful. Later, Orozco was convicted of two counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance for which he was sentenced to 192 months in prison.

LEGAL ISSUE ON APPEAL

Orozco appealed his conviction on the issue of whether the stop was justified under the administrative search doctrine, which permits stops and searches, initiated in furtherance of a valid administrative scheme, to be conducted in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION

In short, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s denial of Orozco’s motion to suppress, vacated his conviction for two counts of drug possession arising from the stop of his vehicle and remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

“Nevada Highway Patrol troopers made the stop in order to investigate criminal activity, even though they lacked the quantum of evidence necessary to justify the stop,” reasoned the Court of Appeals. Based on that, the stop was not justified under the administrative search doctrine, which permits stops and searches, initiated in furtherance of a valid administrative scheme, to be conducted in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

The Court of Appels further reasoned that although an administrative scheme allowing Nevada law enforcement officers to make stops of commercial vehicles and conduct limited inspections without reasonable suspicion was valid on its face because its purpose was to ensure the safe operation of commercial vehicles, the evidence in this case, however, established beyond doubt that the stop of the defendant’s vehicle was a pretext for a stop to investigate information of suspected criminal activity short of that necessary to give rise to reasonable suspicion.

“The stop would not have been made in the absence of a tip that the defendant was possibly carrying narcotics. Accordingly, the stop was a pretextual stop that violated the Fourth Amendment.”

The Court further emphasized that the presence of a criminal investigatory motive, by itself, does not render an administrative stop pretextual, and nor does a dual motive—one valid and one impermissible. “Rather, the defendant must show that the stop would not have occurred in the absence of an impermissible reason.”

With that, the Court reversed Orozco’s convictions.

My opinion? Good decision. Pretextual stops are often used by police officers as an excuse to initiate a stop and search of automobiles suspected of being involved in criminal activity. These stops involve police officers stopping drivers for traffic violations – minor or otherwise – to conduct investigations which are separate and unrelated to the original reasons substantiating the stop. Pretextual traffic stops give police officer a lot of discretion in who they choose to stop and for what reasons. Too much discretion. Again, good decision.

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.

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.

Is Texting While Driving the New DUI?

 

Police Officer Posing As Construction Worker

Recently, Marietta Police dressed up as a construction workers at a busy intersection to catch distracted drivers who were text messaging while driving. The police go as far as busting drivers who are texting while stopped at red lights. It appears that going undercover is an effective way to bust drivers texting, tweeting or checking emails behind the wheel.

“What we’ve done here is we’re able to put officers in the roads so we’re able to get close enough almost inside their cars so we can look down and see exactly what they’re doing on their phones,” said Marietta police Officer Nick Serkedakis. “I really think this is the DUI of the future. Impairment is still a problem, but this distracted driving is killing as many people as drunk drivers.”

The tickets are $150 and one point on your license.

Can a program like this – one where WA police officers pose as construction workers at certain locations to observe texting drivers – be implemented in Washington State?

Probably not.

This program is very similar to DUI checkpoints, which were basically outlawed in 2008. For those who don’t know, sobriety checkpoints (also called DUI checkpoints) are locations where law enforcment officers are stationed to check drivers for signs of intoxication and impairment. Many jurisdictions utilize sobriety checkpoints as part of their larger drunk driving deterrance program. Due to legal issues surrounding their use, not all states conduct sobriety checkpoints. Some states have laws authorizing their use. Others forbid them or are silent on the issue.

According to the Government’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), Washington State is one of only 12 states which do not conduct DUI checkpoints. The story is interesting. In 2008, then-Governor Christine Gregoire wanted the state Legislature to authorize police to set up sobriety spot checks, a practice unseen in Washington since the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1988 under City of Seattle v. Messiani.

Some background is necessary. In Messiani, the Washington State Supreme Court decided that the Seattle Police Department’s sobriety checkpoint program was constitutional. In short, police officers set up roadblocks where all oncoming motorists were stopped. The police lacked warrants and any particular suspicion of criminal activity. The City of Seattle argued that the State’s interest in the legal operation of vehicles outweighs any privacy interest under Article I, Section 7 of the WA Constitution. Ultimately, the Washington State Supreme Court concluded that the City of Seattle’s position was unlawful, and held that sobriety checkpoints were unconstitutional.

At any rate, Governor Gregoire’s proposed DUI Checkpoint legislation failed. The ACLU even got involved. In the end, Legislators simply lacked the political will overturn the WA Supreme Court’s City of Seattle v. Messiani. 

Unlike Washington, however, Georgia has  actively legalized DUI checkpoints. They are conducted weekly and aggressively; and upheld under the State of Georgia’s Constitution.

Due to the differences, I can’t see WA police officers successfully pulling off an anti-text messaging campaign like the Georgia police officers can. This campaign is too similar to DUI checkpoints, which are illegal in Washington State.

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. Huffman: Crossing the Centerline = DUI Arrest

Division I of the WA Court of Appeals decided that a single crossing of the centerline is sufficient to justify a traffic stop for a violation of RCW 46.61.100 Keep Right Except When Passing.

In State v. Huffman, defendant Sarah Huffman was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) after being pulled over for weaving in her lane, jerking back from the centerline and crossing the centerline on State Route 9. The two-mile section of the roadway is relatively straight, with a painted yellow line in the center that is at times a double solid line.

Police reports indicate the Trooper Eberle saw Huffman’s vehicle touch the centerline three times, each time immediately jerking back to the right side of the road. On the fourth occasion, the vehicle crossed the centerline by approximately one full tire width. Trooper Eberle did not recall any oncoming traffic at the time the vehicle crossed over the centerline. He stopped the vehicle and subsequently arrested the driver, appellant Sarah Huffman, for driving under the influence.

Huffman claimed the stop was unlawful because her single crossing of the centerline did not give rise to reasonable, articulable suspicion that she committed a traffic infraction under RCW 46.61.100. The district court agreed and granted her motion to suppress all evidence obtained after the stop. On appeal, the superior court reversed, concluding the stop was valid because Huffman committed a traffic infraction by crossing the centerline in violation of RCW 46.61.100.

Huffman appealed her case to Division I of the WA Court of Appeals. She argued that under State v. Prado, and its interpretation of RCW 46.61.140 Driving on Roadways Laned For Traffic, her momentary crossing of the centerline was not a traffic infraction and thus, there was no lawful basis for the stop.

Some background on RCW 46.61.140 and State v. Prado is necessary. In Prado, a law enforcement officer witnessed Mr. Tonelli-Prado’s vehicle cross an eight-inch white dividing the exit lane from the adjacent lane by two tire widths for one second. The Trooper pulled over Prado’s vehicle for violating RCW 46.61.140. This traffic statute addresses the safe changing of lanes (right or left or turn) and the use of a center lane, but does not mention a centerline. RCW 46.61.140(1) states:

Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic the following rules in addition to all others consistent herewith shall apply: (1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.

The trial court found that that Prado’s motion to suppress was not appropriate because the vehicle actually crossed the lane line, rather than merely touching the lane line. Upon review, however, the Superior Court found that under a totality of the circumstances argument, that a brief incursion not resulting in a “safety problem” was not sufficient grounds to pull over the vehicle. The Prosecutor appealed the ruling of the Superior Court to Division I Court of Appeals. On appeal, Division I upheld the Superior Court and ruled that a vehicle crossing over the line for one second by two tire widths on an exit lane does not justify a belief that the vehicle was operated unlawfully under RCW 46.61.140(1).

In light of this background, Division I granted Huffman’s appeal to decide whether (1) State v. Prado applies and (2) whether the “as nearly as practicable” language of RCW 46.61.140 also applies to RCW 46.61.100.

The Court decided “No,” and “No.” The plain reading of the two statutes and their different objectives leads one to believe that the “nearly as practicable” qualifying language from RCW 46.61.140(1) does NOT apply to RCW 46.61.100. “Our decision in Prado is limited to its facts which involved only a violation of RCW 46.61.140, not RCW 46.61.100. Because it is undisputed that Huffman crossed the centerline, the officer was justified in stopping her to investigate a violation of RCW 46.61.100.” Based on that, the Court of Appeals vacated and reversed the trial court’s orders suppressing all evidence and dismissing the prosecution. The Court also reinstated the charges against Huffman and remanded this matter back to the district court for trial.

My opinion? The Huffman opinion is an attempt to limit the scope and applicability of Prado’s reasoning to RCW 46.61.140. Ever since Prado was decided 7 years ago, the Prosecutors and Judges in district courts have rallied against it. Prado took too much discretionary power out of the hands of police officers who follow and pull over motorists suspected of DUI. Here, the Court of Appeals “stopped the insanity” of Prado and limit its reasoning to violations of RCW 46.61.140 only.

Unfortunately, a pendular swing in one direction often gives momentum to a pendular swing in the opposite direction. More specifically, I fear that the reasoning of Huffman might be applicable to violations of RCW 46.61.670 Driving With Wheels Off Roadway. The statute says the following:

It shall be unlawful to operate or drive any vehicle or combination of vehicles over or along any pavement or gravel or crushed rock surface on a public highway with one wheel or all of the wheels off the roadway thereof, except as permitted by RCW 46.61.428 or for the purpose of stopping off such roadway, or having stopped thereat, for proceeding back onto the pavement, gravel or crushed rock surface thereof.

Therefore – and worst-case scenario – under Huffman, a motorist who briefly/unlawfully drives on a road with one or more wheels off the roadway can be pulled over and investigated for DUI.

Is this fair?