DUI? Hand over the keys | New law makes it harder for drivers to get back behind the wheel

Four and a half years after a horrific car accident changed the life of a young woman forever, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law that took effect last Friday making it harder for drivers cited with DUIs to get back behind the wheel.

As of last Friday, July 22, any driver in Washington who is cited for driving while intoxicated will have their car impounded for a minimum of 12 hours under Senate Bill 5000, known as Hailey’s Law.

In January 2007, Hailey Huntley, a Whatcom County resident, was hit head-on while driving on the Mt. Baker Highway. The driver of the other car had been arrested for a DUI hours earlier, taken by state patrol to her home and told not to drive. The driver returned to the car and continued driving, when she hit Huntley.

Huntley sustained major injuries in the crash, including a broken pelvis, leg, knee, crushed foot and collapsed lungs.

Under the new law, a vehicle will not be released from the impound until 12 hours after it has been impounded.

“This is about making sure that impaired drivers don’t return to their cars and drive again before they’ve sobered up,” said State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste in a press release. “This isn’t about trying to punish someone for driving drunk. If they’re found guilty, that will become the court’s job.”

For Mercer Island residents, the rule doesn’t change much about the way DUIs are handled.

“It’s not going to change our operations a whole heck of a lot,” said Mercer Island Police Operations Commander David Jokinen. “Most of the time, the cars involved in a DUI here end up being impounded anyway.”

He said the police department has five towing companies in a rotation, so if a DUI is given, one will be called to take the vehicle to the companies’ impound lot.

“Now they just have to make sure not to release it for 12 hours,” he said.

There are exceptions to the law; specifically, if there are more than two registered owners of the vehicle, then the non-cited owner can pick up the vehicle.

According to police statistics provided by the Mercer Island Police Department, there have been 26 DUI arrests so far this year, compared to 36 last year in the same timeframe. Four of this year’s 26 came in June. Jokinen said the department averages between 60 and 75 DUI cases each year.

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