Committee passes Padden bill to combat impaired driving

For the third time in three years, and amidst an increase in traffic fatalities in Washington caused by alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers, an anti-impaired driving bill from 4th District Sen. Mike Padden has been approved by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Senate Bill 5032 would expand the period for reviewing prior convictions of impaired driving to 15 years, from the 10 years now in state law, when determining whether a new offense of impaired driving is charged as a felony. The proposal would increase the penalty from a gross misdemeanor to a felony offense for any person who has three or more prior DUI offenses within that “lookback” period.

The committee passed SB 5032 during its meeting today. The bill now goes to the Senate Transportation Committee for further consideration.

A similar proposal introduced by Padden, Senate Bill 5054, was passed by the Law and Justice Committee and the full Senate during the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, including unanimous approval last year. The bill later died in the House both years.

At the bill’s public hearing earlier this week, Padden told his fellow members of the Law and Justice Committee that repeat impaired-driving offenders commit most of the vehicular homicides and vehicular assaults in Washington.

“This is a measure to try to prevent those horrible, senseless crimes,” Padden testified. “Four years ago, I was out driving here in Olympia on a weekend on I-5. Right at the Pacific Avenue exit I saw the remains of a crash in which a 17-year-old Hispanic woman from the Tri-Cities was killed. They were changing a tire on the shoulder and a repeat drunk driver crashed into them on the shoulder.”

Padden, the ranking Republican on the Law and Justice Committee, said similar traffic fatalities in the state involve drivers who have had as many as eight DUI offenses, but the current 10-year lookback period is not long enough to allow the state to impose stronger punishment against such offenders.

“I think it’s common sense to make the lookback period 15 years instead of 10,” added Padden, a former Spokane County district court judge.

Padden said this year’s bill also would give offenders a chance to undergo treatment with the hope they eventually will no longer have a problem with alcohol or drugs.

According to statistics compiled by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Washington road deaths reached a 20-year high in 2021. There were 670 traffic deaths in 2021, including 272 fatalities involving drug-impaired driving and 155 deaths involving alcohol-impaired driving. In 2020, Washington had 574 traffic fatalities, including 214 involving drug-impaired driving and 135 involving alcohol-impaired driving.

The commission has a current preliminary estimate of 745 traffic fatalities in 2022. No 2022 figures on traffic deaths involving drug- or alcohol-impaired driving are available yet.

“Our state has seen an alarming increase in traffic deaths over the past few years, and drunk driving and drug-impaired driving are two leading causes. This bill would help get the most dangerous drivers off the road and into treatment,” said Padden. “Preventing impaired driving should be a key goal in our state. We’ve seen too many accidents and fatalities caused by drunk and drug-impaired drivers, especially repeat offenders. This bill could help reverse this tragic trend.”

The bill received supporting testimony from several people and organizations, including Gov. Jay Inslee’s public safety policy official, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

TVW’s coverage of the public hearing on SB 5032 can be viewed here.