The Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) announced Friday that law enforcement agencies statewide will begin adding extra patrols to apprehend impaired drivers now through September 7. More than 135 law enforcement agencies will add patrols through Labor Day, historically a time when Washington sees an increase in impaired driving. The enhanced patrols are the first statewide enforcement campaign since the coronavirus pandemic began this year.
“Half of all traffic deaths in Washington involve an impaired driver,” said Mark Medalen, WTSC program manager. “While most adults in Washington believe driving impaired is unacceptable, the few who drive impaired were involved in crashes that resulted in 231 deaths in 2019. Stepped-up enforcement reminds everyone to plan ahead and avoid driving impaired, or to take action to prevent someone from doing so.”
Planned statewide enforcement patrols for distracted driving and seat belt use were postponed earlier this year due to the coronavirus. Traffic volumes were down 62 percent in April but have returned to near-normal levels in August, with volume down 14 percent, compared to the same period in 2019. “As people return to the roads we must refocus on safety,” said Medalen. “COVID doesn’t stop impaired driving crashes and deaths, but an arrest for a DUI means everyone, including the driver, can make it home safely.”
Medalen pointed to alternatives to driving impaired. “Sleeping it off on a friend’s couch is a better alternative than a jail cell; a taxi, rideshare or a friend providing a ride is better than a patrol car or ambulance. And if you see someone about to drive impaired, take action. That’s what 81 percent of Washingtonians do by offering a couch, a ride, or simply calling a cab.”
Drivers who are impaired from more than one substance—usually alcohol and cannabis – are now the most common type of drivers involved in deadly crashes. “Using marijuana after drinking alcohol, increases crash risk,” said Medalen. “Some people think that consuming cannabis after drinking will sober them up. While they may feel different, they are still impaired.” WTSC data show:
- In the past five years, 1,260 people were killed in crashes involving impaired drivers and another 1,926 were seriously injured.
- Washington experienced 231 deaths related to impaired driving last year in our state. From 2012 to 2017, Washington experienced a 15 percent per year increase in the number of poly-drug drivers involved in fatal crashes. Alcohol and cannabis are the most common poly-drug combination.
- While most adults do not drive impaired, too many adults in Washington drive under the influence:
- 22 percent report driving after using alcohol
- 15 percent report driving after using cannabis
- 9 percent report driving after using both alcohol and cannabis
“One death or injury caused by an impaired driver is too many. But when people plan ahead instead of driving impaired, lives are saved. When people step up to prevent impaired driving, lives are saved. Together we can get to zero deaths caused by impaired drivers,” said Medalen.