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DUI campaigns: Law enforcement cracks down on impaired drivers

Through the new year, law enforcement is targeting drivers who tipped back too many alcoholic beverages.

Driving while impaired is a common violation, especially during the holiday season, that can lead to deadly consequences. Police are currently taking part in several campaigns meant to remove drunken and drugged drivers from behind the wheel.

“In Washington, impaired driving is still the most frequent contributing factor in deadly collisions. During this time of year with holiday parties and celebrations, we urge everyone to plan ahead and choose a safe ride home,” said Lowell Porter, Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), in a prepared statement.

The average blood alcohol level of Washington drivers arrested for DUI is 0.14, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to the WTSC. The average impaired driver gets behind the wheel roughly 80 times before he or she is caught, Federal Way police officer Adrienne Purcella said.

Regional, statewide and nationwide DUI campaigns are in effect. Law enforcement agencies in the Puget Sound are collaborating on Target Zero, a Washington State Patrol emphasis on ending drunken driving. The emphasis began before the holidays and is ongoing. Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed” campaign will last through Jan. 2. Multiple law enforcement agencies from across the state are participating. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on Dec. 13, launched “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit, Under Arrest.” The emphasis lasts nationwide through the holidays. It includes the “No Refusal” strategy. This permits law enforcement officers to quickly obtain warrants from on-call judges to take blood samples and breathalyzer tests from suspected drunken drivers.

There’s no shortage of DUI offenders. The crime is widespread and committed by everyday people, Federal Way Lt. Mark Bensen said.

“Everybody does it or has done it,” Purcella said.

In Washington state last year, 41,006 people were charged with DUI, according to WSTSC. In 2008, 39,455 people were charged with DUI, according to the same source. Many more drove under the influence without being detected by law enforcement. Others were ticketed but never charged for the offense.

Through October, 205 DUIs were issued in Federal Way, according to police. This does not take into account felony offenses, records supervisor Tami Parker said.

Another 37 citations were given for violations of a vehicle ignition interlock system. Thirty-two more citations were given for an open alcoholic container in a motorized vehicle, physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated and being a minor who drove after consuming alcohol.

Drinking and drugs

Purcella issued 52 of Federal Way’s DUI citations. In her three and half years on the police force, she’s become skilled at spotting impaired driving. She’s also willing to spend the time — typically two to five hours when all the sobriety tests and paperwork are completed — issuing a DUI.

Being at the top of her field earned Purcella a coveted spot in the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and coordinated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Purcella and fellow officer Jamie Lefebvre recently completed three weeks of intense training to be certified as drug recognition experts (DRE).

“There’s not a lot of (DRE) officers throughout the state,” Purcella said. “It’s a prestigious thing.”

The training prepared them to recognize when an impaired driver is under the influence of something other than alcohol and to identify the substance causing the impairment.

DREs are called to the scene when a driver is clearly impaired but passes tests that signal alcohol use. Federal Way employs only three DREs. They know the signs of cocaine, marijuana and prescription drug use, among others.

“When they’re under the influence of drugs, that’s DUI too,” Purcella said.

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