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Washington Looks to Change DUI Laws on Child Passengers

Changes that could save children’s lives may be coming to Washington state’s DUI laws. The state legislature is considering a bill that includes numerous updates to impaired driving statutes, among them a measure to strengthen penalties for drunk drivers who have children in their vehicles at the time of arrest.

The bill was moved out of the Senate Transportation Committee on April 9, 2019 and is under consideration in the Senate at the time of this blog’s publication. The bill adds additional penalties for drunk or impaired driving with children in the vehicle in hopes of making intoxicated people think twice before endangering not only themselves and other motorists but also vulnerable children.

Proposed Penalties for Drunk Drivers with Minors in the Vehicle 

According to The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, under the new law, “A person convicted of impaired driving with passengers under age 16 would receive increased sentences for each minor passenger and those sentences would have to be served consecutively. Offenders would receive an additional 12 months of ignition interlock, up from six months, for each minor passenger in the vehicle.”

States Protecting Minor Passengers with DUI Measures

In 2009, New York passed Leandra’s Law, a law which, among other provisions, made impaired driving with a passenger under 15 years old a felony punishable by up to four years in prison. This law made Leandra’s Law perhaps the most stringent and potent preventive measure in the nation for keeping impaired drivers from endangering child passengers along with themselves and everyone else on the road.

Currently, at least six other states have similar measures in place, making drunk or drugged driving with a passenger under a particular age (typically 15–17 years old) a felony. In 2016, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) introduced a federal version of Leandra’s Law, but the bill has not yet become law, leaving many states with antiquated laws that still consider drunk driving with a child passenger a misdemeanor. 

Bills Would Strengthen State DUI Laws

Harsher penalties provide an additional deterrent for impaired drivers to get behind the wheel with children under age 16 in the car. MADD's long running position is that impaired driving with children in the car is a form of child abuse, citing numerous statistics on the many preventable deaths each year of children who were the passengers of drunk drivers.

Drunk drivers who are responsible for the safety of children in the car are also much less likely to have taken proper safety precautions, such as using car seats and seatbelts for their children and making sure they are not seated in the front passenger seat. These factors compound the risk of injury or death in a crash.

We applaud Washington’s legislature for taking this step forward and hope to see this provision of the bill become law. If this bill passes, Washington would join New York and other states with felony provisions in creating models for the nation in preventive safety legislation for child passengers.

The bill would also require offenders to install an ignition interlock device in their car for a longer period of time. Research shows IIDs are the most effective way to reduce drunk driving offenses and save thousands of lives every year. Learn more about how IIDs save lives.


Category: Legislation

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