Gov. Inslee endorses bill to lower blood alcohol level in Washington

The number of deadly traffic crashes in Washington soared to a level not seen since 1990, according to Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Preliminary reports show 745 people were killed on the roads in 2022.

WTSC said more than half of the deadly crashes involved impairment from drugs and alcohol.

"Our roads are so unsafe right now. People are showing total disregard to others," said State Senator John Lovick, representing Washington’s 44th District. 

WTSC said the frequency of unsafe driving behaviors have been surging since the COVID-19 pandemic. During the commission’s quarterly meeting, a representative said data was still being collected, so the number of deaths involving impaired drivers in 2022 could be higher.

Lovick proposed a bill during the 2023 legislative session to reduce the legal blood alcohol concentration level, commonly known as BAC. He said he hopes the potential law change could curb the surge and save lives.

"If you know someone that has been drinking, and they are at a .06, .07, .08 [percent], would you want them driving down your roads with your family walking in the streets or your kids playing the road? The answer is always no!" said Lovick.

His idea is to lower the limit of the state’s current level from .08 to .05. If the proposal passes and .05 becomes the standard, a man weighing 150 pounds would be considered legally drunk after two drinks. A woman would be at .05 at about 1 ½ drinks.

The bill passed through the Law and Justice Committee on Thursday, with eight votes supporting it and three votes with no recommendation. The bill also picked up a key endorsement from Governor Jay Inslee who announced his support that same day.

"This is a public safety issue. This is a crime issue. And I’m convinced if we do this it will reduce the number of people who are impacted and committing this crime in the state of Washington," said Inslee. "It’s just not acceptable. So, we’ve got to value life in our state."

Inslee said he has supported and advocated for the idea since his time as a prosecutor.

"I think it will send a message to people to moderate their drinking and driving behavior," said Inslee.

Report: 2022 saw most traffic deaths in Washington since 1990

A report from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission found 2022 saw the most traffic deaths in the state since 1990, and more than half of them involved impaired driving.

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The state leaders said the .05% BAC level appeared to be working in Utah. It was the first state to initiate the rule in 2018. Lovick said he studied the statistics after the rule change there and found, "They reduced the fatality rates, DUI fatality rates, by 20 percent."

As a former state trooper, Lovick said he knows the potential dangers and devastation if Washington doesn’t become the second state in the nation to change the law.

"I was a state trooper for 31 years and I have to admit I still have nightmares and I still just have terrible thoughts over the things that I saw going to terrible collisions; having to go to report to families that there loved ones were killed. And I still have nightmares over that," said Lovick.

The state senator said he was optimistic the bill could become law. He explained the Transportation Committee would be next to hear the proposal. If it passes, it would go to the Senate floor.