Drunken drivers' death toll is high
State Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, says more people are killed by drunken drivers in Washington state than by all other criminals combined. That's mostly true.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The claim: More people are killed by drunken drivers in Washington state than by all other criminals combined. That's what state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, told his legislative colleagues recently while arguing for wide-ranging changes to the state's drinking-and-driving laws.
What we found: Mostly true.
Drunken drivers kill a surprising number of people in Washington state — 2,042 over the past decade, according to statistics collected from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.
That's more than the 2,028 people who were the victims of an intentional killing during that same 10-year period from 2000 to 2010.
But year-to-year totals for that period show that statement is true half the time (although it may be less, because the drunken-driving deaths include the drivers themselves). In the remaining years, slayings outpace deaths from drunken drivers. But each year, deaths from both causes are in the triple digits.
Goodman, who is running for Congress in the First Congressional District, proposed changes to the state's laws for drunken driving after the July death of a Kirkland man who was running an errand when an SUV crashed into his car.
The SUV driver, Patrick Rexroat, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit when he killed Stephen Lacey, a 43-year-old father of two and a Google engineer.
Rexroat pleaded guilty March 9 to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to four years in prison. At the time of his sentencing, that was the maximum allowable for vehicular-homicide DUI.
That's about to change. A bill that Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign would make the penalty for DUI vehicular homicide the same as manslaughter: 6 ½ to 8 ½ years.
The minimum penalty for DUI convictions remains the same: electronic home monitoring.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Legislature on March 8 approved a host of changes to state laws against driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The proposed laws awaiting the governor's signature also would:
• Keep felony DUI-related convictions on record permanently.
• Require drunken drivers who get their licenses reinstated to install in their car an ignition-locking device equipped with a camera. That way, authorities can better determine whether the person breathing into the device to start the car is, in fact, the person behind the wheel.
• Allow prosecutors to bring DUI charges against people who drive impaired after inhaling or huffing chemicals.
Another bill, now in the House rules committee, would allow courts to order drunken drivers to pay child support to the minor children of the people they kill or harm.
Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @susankelleher.