Motorists driving impaired will have a greater chance of being pulled over by law enforcement, as nearly 150 additional DUI patrols begin across the state. Patrols run from August 14 through Labor Day weekend, a time when fatalities from impairment tend to increase. To reduce fatalities, traffic safety officials offer a simple message for drivers who consume alcohol or other drugs: plan before you party.
“We conduct the `Plan before you party’ campaign during the busy summer travel time because we want everyone to get home safe,” says Mark Medalen, impaired driving program manager at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC). “Planning ahead for a safe ride is especially important for the small number of Washington drivers who mix alcohol and cannabis.”
Crashes with fatalities by month, 2013-2017. Alcohol and drug impaired driving is involved in nearly half of all traffic fatalities.
From 2012 to 2017, Washington experienced a 15 percent per year increase in the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who were impaired from more than one substance, known as poly-drug drivers. Alcohol and cannabis are the most frequent combination found in drivers involved in deadly crashes.
“The good news is that most Washington drivers are concerned about traffic safety, and agree that impairment begins as soon as you start consuming alcohol and cannabis” said Medalen. “We must focus on turning concern to action, by making a plan before you party, or helping others who are impaired get a ride, use rideshare or public transportation.”
To help deliver the message, WTSC is placing 75 ‘standees’ – free standing, tall posters – in cannabis retail shops around the state, in a first-time effort to place traffic safety messaging where people shop or buy cannabis.
Steve Haley, general manager of American Mary in Seattle, one of the cannabis stores displaying the sign, said “We want to encourage everyone to be responsible. Don’t drive while high.”
From 2013 to 2017 nearly 75 percent of cannabis-positive drivers in fatal crashes were also positive for other drugs and/or alcohol. Poly-drug drivers are now the most common type of impaired driver involved in fatal crashes.
Responding to this trend, traffic safety officials are improving techniques used to test drivers for impairment from cannabis. For example, in King County, the Kent Police Department is participating in a Law Enforcement Phlebotomy training and certification program. Police officers are trained to draw and test blood, avoiding a lengthy wait in the hospital where the blood is typically drawn from the suspect.
“Deploying officers trained in phlebotomy to conduct blood draws means we can process DUI’s more efficiently,” said Sergeant Jason Bishop of the Kent Traffic Unit. “We can return officers to the street faster than by going to a medical facility and waiting for busy medical personnel, and it streamlines the court process. We hope to train more officers in the coming year.”
Said Medalen, “Our hope is to reduce traffic deaths to zero. Planning ahead is one action you can take to keep our roads and our families safe. There’s another way that everyone can help. If you see someone impaired, engage with them and help them find another way home. Road safety is up to all of us.”