Drunken drivers in Washington will have a harder time getting back behind the wheel under a bill Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Wednesday.
The new rules, dubbed “Hailey’s Law” after a woman who had a head-on collision with a drunk driver in 2007, require law enforcement officers to impound the vehicles belonging to people they arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for 12 hours. It’s meant to make sure people sober up before they can get access to a vehicle.
“In a sense, it does make it worth it because it means I went through this so somebody else doesn’t have to,” said Hailey Huntley, the woman for whom Senate Bill 5000 was named.
Huntley said she’s still undergoing surgeries from her 2007 crash with a woman who had been arrested for drunken driving earlier the same day. The woman was taken home by a state trooper because the local jail was full and then called a taxi to go retrieve her car.
Huntley sued the Washington State Patrol and Whatcom County for negligence, and was awarded about $5.5 million in damages.
Capt. Jason Berry, a spokesman for the State Patrol, said the new law, which goes into effect in July, would clear up a dilemma that law enforcement officers find themselves in when they deal with impounding vehicles.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the State Patrol couldn’t have an agency-wide rule requiring troopers to impound a car under certain conditions because officers needed to take into consideration whether a reasonable alternative existed.
But in Huntley’s case, the state trooper had used discretion to determine what to do with the vehicle, and that led to a lawsuit against the State Patrol.
“This was really a situation where we’re darned if we do, darned if we don’t,” Berry said.
He said having a clear rule requiring a 12-hour impound in DUI arrests handed down from the Legislature would protect the State Patrol in court.
The law does allow some exceptions to the rule if the car that’s impounded belongs to somebody who wasn’t in the car when the driver was arrested. In that case, the legal owner of the vehicle would be able to come get it before 12 hours were up.
Berry said he wasn’t worried about losing some officer discretion or about violating due process by impounding cars belonging to people who are arrested for, but not convicted of, DUI. But the new law has faced some criticism because of those provisions.
Arthur West, a private citizen who testified at a hearing on the proposal in January, said he worried it would put a special burden on poor people who might struggle to pay impound fees, and he pointed out that somebody who was not actually drunk could be arrested for DUI by mistake.
In 2008, there were 40,205 DUI arrests in Washington, and 185 of them resulted in acquittals, according to Transportation Department data.
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a Camano Island Democrat and the primary sponsor of the bill, said she thought it was fair to impose an added expense on people who are arrested for a DUI because driving a car is a privilege, not a right, and a car in the wrong hands could be a weapon.
“I think we’re going to take the gun out of the drunk driver’s hand because that’s what a car is when a drunk driver is using it,” Haugen said.
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org