New law makes life harder for drunk drivers with kids in the car

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OLYMPIA—Driving drunk with a child in the car will soon cost you more. Much more.

 A new law signed today by Gov. Chris Gregoire requires courts to impose an additional $1,000 to $5,000 fine for first-time DUI offenders if a child under age 16 is in the vehicle at the time of the offense—with stiffer penalties for repeat offenders.

 The measure, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), also triples the amount of time an alcohol-detecting ignition-interlock device must be on the offenders’ vehicles, from 60 days to six months. Plus, the offender is automatically reported to Child Protective Services. 

If the offender is convicted of felony DUI, vehicular assault DUI, or vehicular homicide, the law is even tougher, adding a year in prison for each child in the vehicle at the time of the crime.

“Driving under the influence is unacceptable. Driving under the influence with a child in the car is outrageous,” said Goodman.  “Making the punishment fit the crime is the best deterrent.”

Goodman’s House Bill 2302 was requested by the Washington State Patrol and is strongly supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

“This is about saving lives and saving heartache. This is something we can do to protect our children,” said Linda Thompson on behalf of MADD at a public hearing on the bill.

Thompson dedicated herself to preventing drunk-driving tragedies after losing a three-year-old child to a drunk driver in 1986.

There are about 40,000 arrests for drunk driving in Washington every year, and about 500 of them involve children in the car, according to Captain Jason Berry, legislative liaison for the Washington State Patrol.

“We need to up the ante,” Berry testified at a hearing on the Goodman bill.

Goodman said anyone who has heard 911 tapes of terrified children in a car with a drunk driver will understand the need for the new law.

“Hearing those kids cry out makes your hair stand on end,” said Goodman. “These are children. They can’t protect themselves. But this law will help to protect them.”

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