State lawmakers need a breathalyzer

By Ken Schram, political commentary

The answer is: Not much.

The question: What are we doing about drunk drivers?

Last July, the state’s “tough” new drunk driving law went into effect. That would be the one that gives drunk drivers 10 years — make that 3,650-plus days — to rack up four or more DUIs before being charged with a felony.

This year, there’s a new plan on the legislative table: Set up sobriety checkpoints so that police can whimsically stop anyone out driving on a particular stretch of road at a particular time.

I’ll bet just the thought of that has some people’s hands shaking so badly that one can hear the ice clinking against that tumbler of scotch.

But, oops, there is a “minor” problem. Seems the Washington State Constitution is particularly persnickety when it comes to matters of privacy and unwarranted searches of citizens.

“No problem” say the intellectually gifted members of the state Legislature — just set it up so that some sympathetic judge gives police a broad and non-descript search warrant that can be used in a broad and non-descript manner.

That way, cops can just set up a roadblock somewhere and force people to pull over.

At which point they can then stick their noses in everyone’s car to see if they can detect the odor of alcohol on their breath.

Of course, what happens from there depends on whether the State Toxicology Lab has finally cleaned up its act, but that’s an issue for another time.

If you’re getting the sense that I’m not at all keen on this sobriety checkpoint idea, you are an astute individual.

It’s not because I have even one degree of sympathy for the drunk behind the wheel. I don’t.

But I am sort of partial to keeping the constitutional rights that, last time I checked, are supposed to be in play on our behalf.

What lawmakers are proposing is more about showmanship, and not so much about substance. If the folks down in Olympia really want to get tough on drunk drivers, go after them.

In Belgium for example, if someone has a blood alcohol level of .08, they get hit with a minimum fine of $10,922 and face the prospect of losing their license and going to jail — for a first offense.

How about doing what Sweden does?

Blow a .02 and you get hit with a heavy fine and a suspended license. Blow a .10 and you are hit with an aggravated drunk driving charge, which means you’re off to jail and hard labor and lose your license — for life.

By the way, about 3 percent of fatal traffic accidents in Sweden are said to involve alcohol.

Here in the United States, that figure is about 38 percent.

Know what else?

Sweden doesn’t have sobriety checkpoints.

Maybe the folks in Olympia could take a lesson from the folks in Stockholm.

Ken Schram is a KOMO-TV and radio commentator whose radio feature with John Carlson airs 3 p.m. weekdays on AM 570 KVI. Contact:


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