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Victim, Prosecutor Say New DUI Law Is Progress, But Not Enough

Austin Jenkins/ Northwest News Network. Dan Schulte, with his sister at his side, speaks at the bill signing ceremony for Washington’s new DUI law.

Second-time drunk drivers in Washington will go directly to jail. They’ll also be required to get an ignition interlock device within five days.

Those are just two of the provisions in a sweeping new DUI measure signed into law Thursday. But already there are calls for even tougher penalties in the future.

The bill signing ceremony took place at a State Patrol field office. Governor Jay Inslee was flanked by police, prosecutors, lawmakers and victims.

“Today our state takes an important step in strengthening our laws to protect people from impaired drivers,” Inslee said.

In addition to mandatory arrest and ignition interlocks, the new law creates an alcohol monitoring pilot project for repeat offenders.

This new law was a reaction to a series of recent drunk driving tragedies. Among those standing with the governor was Dan Schulte. His parents were killed and wife and newborn son critically injured last March. They were struck by a repeat drunk driver while crossing a street in north Seattle.

“It’s very fresh for us," Schulte said. "It’s pretty hard to be here.”

Shulte said he’s thankful for the new law, but he thinks it doesn’t go far enough. He pointed specifically to how many times a drunk driver has to be caught before it becomes a felony.

“Right now it takes way too many offenses in my opinion. It takes five offenses as I understand. And I think it could be less than that.”

Amy Freedheim agrees. She’s the senior deputy prosecutor in charge of all felony traffic crimes in King County.

“I think it’s 45 states that have felony DUI laws and we are now the most lenient out of all of those 45," Freedheim says. "I don’t think that’s a position Washingtonians want to be in.”

The legislature considered lowering that threshold this year, but decided it was too expensive in terms of prison costs.

On the Web:

SB 5912: DUIs in Washington - Washington Legislature 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."