For third consecutive year, Senate passes Padden bill to combat impaired driving

Following a 20-year high in traffic deaths in Washington, the Senate today again approved an anti-impaired driving bill sponsored by 4th District Sen. Mike Padden.

Senate Bill 5032, which was passed 48-1, 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.

“Washington has suffered a significant increase in traffic deaths over the past few years, and drunk driving and drug-impaired driving are two leading causes,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “This bill tries to remove the most dangerous drivers from our roads and highways and into treatment. Our state has seen too many accidents and fatalities caused by drunk and drug-impaired drivers, especially repeat offenders. This bill could help reduce traffic deaths.”

Padden, the ranking Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said many 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.

“Repeat impaired-driving offenders commit most of the vehicular homicides and vehicular assaults in Washington. This bill tries to prevent those horrible and senseless crimes,” said Padden, a former Spokane County district court judge.

Padden pointed out that SB 5032 would give offenders a chance to undergo a highly structured treatment program.

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.

SB 5032 now goes to the House of Representatives 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.