Two bills in the Washington legislature propose significant changes to Washington’s impaired driving laws. SB 5002 proposes to lower the legal limit for a driver’s alcohol concentration. SB 5032 would extend the felony DUI lookback period and create a sentencing alternative for certain impaired driving convictions.
If passed, SB 5002 would lower the legal alcohol concentration from .08 to .05. The change would apply to the DUI statute at RCW 46.61.502 and to the physical control statute at RCW 46.61.504. According to SB 5002, there were 540 fatal crashes in Washington in 2021, killing more than 600 people. The bill states that there was a 31.3% increase in crashes resulting from an impaired driver between 2020 and 2021. The bill points to a Utah law that lowered the legal alcohol concentration limit from .08 to .05 and a subsequent 19.89% drop in fatal crashes and an 18.3% drop in the fatality rate. The bill estimates such a change in Washington would result in an 11.1% decrease in alcohol-related fatalities and between 538 and 1,790 lives saved annually.
If SB 5032 passes, a person could be convicted of felony DUI or felony physical control instead of a gross misdemeanor if they have three or more previous convictions within the past 10 years. The current law has a lookback period of 15 years. Similar bills proposing to expand the lookback period over the past few years have failed.
In addition to increasing the lookback period for felony driving under the influence and felony physical control to 15 years, SB 5032 would also create an impaired driving drug offender sentencing alternative (“DOSA”) for driving under the influence. Under the proposed law, a court could sentence an eligible offender to either a residential treatment-based sentencing alternative or a prison-based sentencing alternative. The residential treatment-based alternative would be available to eligible offenders when the low end of the standard sentence range for the offense is 24 months or less. The prison-based alternative would be available when the low end of the standard sentence range for the offense is greater than 24 months. An offender would be eligible for impaired driving DOSA sentencing if convicted of either felony DUI or felony physical control with no prior felony DUI, felony physical control, vehicular assault, or vehicular homicide conviction. The court may order a risk assessment, substance use disorder screening, or both.
Both bills have been referred to the Transportation Committee.
SB 5002 could result in a greater number of arrests if it becomes law. If SB 5032 passes, more defendants with old prior convictions could face felony charges. While an impaired driving DOSA would help certain offenders get treatment and limit or avoid incarceration, it could also complicate the sentencing process. If you are facing impaired driving charges, you need the advice and advocacy of an experienced Washington DUI defense attorney. Blair & Kim, PLLC, has the knowledge and skill to fight for you and your rights. Schedule a consultation to discuss your case by calling our office at (206) 622-6562.