Drunk driving is a serious problem in the Evergreen State. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these Washington state DUI statistics:
If you’ve recently been arrested for driving drunk, we want to help you get clean. We want to educate you on the next steps to take so that you might be able to minimize your sentence, but we also want to help you get your habit under control.
By doing so, we might be able to chip away at the vast number of alcohol-related deaths that occur in Washington each year.
If you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of a driving under the influence charge, you are now reeling with the legal repercussions of a DUI/DWI.
A DUI charge can really mess your life up...
The severity of the punishment for breaking DUI laws depends on a number of factors. First, your sentence will be determined by the number of prior DUI/DWI convictions you have received in the past 7 years. For example, a first DUI offense can land you a sentence between 48 hours and one year in jail. This jail sentence may be accompanied by a fine totaling as much as $5,000.
Second and third DUI offenses, however, come with heftier penalties. Someone who is caught drunk driving with one prior offense or their record is likely to get a few extra months in jail. And, it’s likely that the judge will hand them a higher fine.
In all three cases (first, second and third offenses), the driver usually has their license revoked. After their first offense, the offender is unable to drive for 3 months. After their second DUI, their license is revoked for two years. The third offense usually comes with a 3-year license suspension, although the judge has the option to revoke it indefinitely.
If you are struggling to make sense of a DUI/DWI charge in Washington state, this guide is for you. It contains the information on what a DUI and a DWI are, what penalties they carry, how to navigate life after being charged, and various programs that you may be required to attend.
As you might assume, a DUI or DWI can wreak havoc on your personal, professional, and financial lives. But fortunately, you don’t have to go through it alone. This guide can help you through the process of understanding
NOTE: In legal terms, the crime of driving under the influence is recognized as a “DUI” in Washington state. However, some states refer to the same crime as a “DWI” (Driving While Intoxicated). Therefore, we’ll use both DWI and DUI throughout this article. It’s our hope that the use of both terms will enable us to help as many people as possible.
In Washington, drivers are charged with a DUI when they’re caught driving under the influence of any mind-altering substance. This includes legal drugs such as alcohol and marijuana as well as illicit drugs like heroin and meth. You can even be charged with a DUI for driving with prescription medication in your system (aka “drugged driving”) if that medication alters your ability to operate a vehicle.
If a police officer suspects that you’re driving under the influence, you may be subject to a breathalyzer test. The breathalyzer will return your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Your BAC reflects the amount of alcohol in your blood. This test will determine whether or not you are legally intoxicated.
You can be charged with a DUI or a DWI if your BAC is:
You can also be arrested for a DUI or DWI in Washington if you are found to be under the influence of any alcohol, drugs or both, no matter the amount. However, if the breathalyzer test shows that you have less than the legal limit in your system, it is unlikely that you will be charged with a DUI. The police may simply arrest you to get you off the road until you sober up.
Currently, a person is legally drunk in Washington state when their blood alcohol content is higher than .08%. But, that might change in the near future.
Washington lawmakers are currently considering the possibility of lowering the legal BAC limit from .08 to .05. It will be important to pay attention to any changes made in the coming months as a lowered BAC limit will affect even casual drinkers.
The bill’s opponents worry that it will incriminate harmless individuals. They believe it will do little to affect the real problem of habitual drunk drivers. Sarah Longwell, Managing Director of the American Beverage Institute and one of the bill’s opponents, says, “The move would target responsible and moderate social drinkers while ignoring the hardcore drunk drivers who pose the greatest threat to safety.”
In many states, police officers utilize sobriety checkpoints to catch drunk drivers. Sobriety checkpoints are stations on the road where officers stop every passing car to “interview” the driver. This allows the officer to gauge whether or not the driver is drunk and, thus, whether or not they’re able to drive safely.
In Washington, driving under the influence laws state that these checkpoints are illegal. At the moment, police officers are prohibited from establishing sobriety checkpoints.
Instead, officers must rely on their own vigilance to seek out erratic or careless drivers. They use routine traffic stops and burnt-out tail lights to catch citizens violating the state’s DUI laws.
In July of 2010, Washington state implemented a highway safety program called Target Zero. This organization is part of the state’s effort to maintain safe roadways by strictly enforcing DUI laws and other traffic safety codes. The goal of the project is to eliminate all highway accident deaths by the year 2030. If the project goes according to plan, it won’t be long before the highway death toll is at zero.
The state is approaching this goal by employing a team of state troopers to monitor the most high-risk areas. Target Zero Washington is currently implemented in:
One of Target Zero’s biggest efforts was establishing a list of dangerous road behaviors. After creating the list, the organized each activity based on potential impact. Those behaviors with the highest potential impact were assigned to a different Priority Level.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is listed as Priority Level One. The other activities on that Level are speeding and running other cars off the road.
Because sobriety checkpoints are not permitted in Washington state, Target Zero conducts “DUI Emphasis Patrols”. These patrols enable the State Police to search for drunk drivers in the most heavily-trafficked areas of each of Target Zero’s five counties.
Additionally, they implemented a “Mobile Impaired Driving Unit”. This is a large bus that contains blood and breath-testing equipment. The MIDU also contains two holding cells which allow the police the detain suspects in the field.
In Washington, DUI laws state that you can be charged with operating under the influence if you’re caught driving while high.
Since Washington’s legalization of marijuana took place in November 2012, the “high driving” problem has grown worse. Between 2010 and 2014, 20% of drivers involved in fatal car accidents tested positive for marijuana.
The problem hasn’t slowed down, either. By 2016, marijuana was involved in a large number of car crashes. According to the Western Safety Transportation Commission, 105 of the 503 fatal car crashes that took place in 2016 involved marijuana. In order to reduce the number of fatal accidents, Washington police actively enforce laws around marijuana and driving.
Some argue that 5 nanograms is too low of a limit. As marijuana tolerance varies from person to person, 5 nanograms can produce varying effects in different people. Some consider themselves fully functional under the influence of that dosage while others are utterly inebriated.
The thing about marijuana, though, is that it can remain in the user’s system for as long as a month after consumption. Therefore, it’s still difficult for law officers to test for marijuana. After all, the test results don’t show when the user took marijuana.
It’s important, however, that you avoid driving with marijuana in your system. Regardless of how 5 nanograms of weed makes you feel, Washington state’s DUI laws are clear: if you are at all under the influence of a mind-altering substance, you can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence.
I want to find my BAC so that I can avoid breaking the DUI laws in WA state. How do I find it?
Usually, it is impossible to determine your exact BAC level before you sit down in the driver’s seat of your car. You could use a tool like BAC Calculator but it will only provide an estimate. No app can provide a true measurement.
Intoxicants make some people feel invincible. Therefore, a lot of drunk people feel like they can drive when, in reality, they are slurring their words and stumbling over their own feet. As a result, individuals often misjudge their ability to drive, especially when they’re heavily intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, an average 180-pound male will reach the legal limit of .08 after four drinks in one hour. The average 160-pound woman will surpass the legal limit after three drinks.
A drink is defined as:
It’s easy to surpass the legal limit after just a few drinks. Depending on your alcohol tolerance, you may not even feel drunk. While it might seem like you’re fine to drive, your BAC will reflect otherwise. Even if you are not over the BAC limit, though, you can be arrested for a DUI/DWI if your driving is impaired by booze.
It’s easier than ever to avoid drunk driving. Phone apps such as Uber and Lyft, along with traditional taxis, can drive you home when you’re too drunk to do it yourself. If you don’t have access to those, assign a friend to be the designated driver or arrange for a ride home. If you get a DUI in Washington state (or any other state), it can affect your life dramatically. Avoid drunk driving at all costs.
This rule applies to routine traffic stops, as well. If a police officer suspects that you’re drunk when they pull you over, you’ll have the option to either take a test or refuse the test and be taken into custody.
When you operate a motor vehicle in Washington, you give implied consent to a blood or breathalyzer BAC test. Therefore, if you’re pulled over under the suspicion of driving intoxicated, you are required to take a BAC test. If you refuse to take a DUI test, you will be arrested and will have two hours to take it.
Usually, you’ll be released after you’re booked and you sober up. If you cause a major accident or injury, however, the police will likely keep you in custody.
...And Then What Happens?
After you’re arrested and charged with DUI, you’ll receive a civil administrative lawsuit notice. This might be given to you by the arresting officer or it may be sent to your house from the Washington State Department of Licensing. The notice indicates that your license is suspended unless you contest the lawsuit and request a hearing. Generally, you must respond to the notice within 20 days of your arrest.
NOTE: Make sure that you have the correct address listed on your driver’s license. All of the paperwork and information you receive from the state will be sent to this address. If your address is listed incorrectly or you no longer live there, you may fail to receive important information. These are important documents and the court expects you to understand them whether you receive them or not.
If you choose to request a hearing, you must either pay a hearing fee or request a fee waiver. If you do not pass your hearing or you opt not to request one, your license will be suspended 60 days after your arrest. The suspension period may last 90 days, 1 year, or more depending on your driving record.
Additionally, a prosecutor will bring your case to court and you will receive a court summons.
If there is reasonable doubt that you violated Washington state’s DUI laws, the jury will decide whether or not to acquit you of the charge. If the jurors cannot agree, the jury will be “hung”. This means that they are unable to reach a verdict, so the court will appoint a new jury and your case will return to court.
If the jury chooses to charge you, you will receive your sentence from the judge. This sentence may include an additional license suspension, fines, and/or jail time. The severity of your sentence depends on the nature of the case. If someone was injured or killed, for example, it is likely that you’ll face a higher sentence. If your BAC was above 0.15, you are likely to face a larger sentence, as well. Any prior DUIs on your record will also affect the court’s sentencing decision.
Washington state’s DUI laws carry a number of legal consequences. If you’re charged with a DUI or DWI, you might face a license suspension, fines, and even jail time. The severity of your charges depends on multiple factors, including whether or not you have received a change during the look-back period.
The Washington State Department of Licensing will impose certain penalties on you whether you are convicted or not. The license suspension, for example, will be effective almost immediately after you’re arrested. Jail time and fines, on the other hand, are applied by the Washington court system later on. These penalties are only imposed if you’re found guilty.
No jail sentence or fine is guaranteed. The length of a prison sentence and the size of the fine are decided on by the judge. They will determine these quantities by assessing the extent to which you violated Washington’s DUI laws.
When determining a sentence for a DUI, the court looks at a number of different factors:
This helps courts to identify the recidivism rates of people with DUIs. Essentially, the court looks at your criminal record to determine whether or not you’ve made efforts to change your behavior over the past few years. Currently, Washington state’s look-back period is 7 years.
If you are charged with driving under the influence multiple times during a 7-year period, you will face a heavier sentence. The more charges you receive during that period, the heavier the sentence will be.
So, the best thing you can do to limit your DUI sentence is to be on your best behavior, avoid drunk driving, and show the court that you are striving to be more responsible.
Your BAC level at the time of your arrest will affect the size of your sentence. If your BAC was above 0.15, for example, you’ll face an increased penalty.
Essentially, the court sees a driver with a high BAC as a danger to the community. By driving with that much alcohol in your system, you’re threatening the safety of the people around you. So, the court will strive to punish you accordingly.
As mentioned previously, when you operate a motor vehicle in Washington, you give implied consent under the state’s DUI laws. Therefore, if you refuse to take a breathalyzer test upon arrest, you’ll face higher legal repercussions. In most instances, your case will be tried as if you tested for a 0.15 on a test.
Essentially, the court sees a test refusal as an admittance of guilt. It is likely that you’ll face a more severe sentence. This includes a longer license suspension, a higher fine, and increased jail time. So, it’s always in your best interest to comply with an officer’s request to administer a test.
Washington state does not tread lightly on the act of drunk driving with minors in the car, you’ll face additional legal penalties. The state defines a minor as anyone under the age of 16. Depending on how many prior convictions you’ve had within the 7-year look-back period, you could face:
In Washington, transporting young passengers while impaired is a serious violation of the state’s child endangerment laws. Don’t do it.
An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer installed inside a motor vehicle. It’s attached to the ignition. When an IID is installed in a car, the owner won’t be able to start the car unless they test clean on the breathalyzer test. These devices are intended to prevent individuals who have alcohol in their system from driving.
As of January 1st, 2011, Washington laws require anyone who is charged with a DUI or DWI to have an IID installed in their vehicle. This IID must remain in the vehicle for at least one year after their suspended license is reinstated. The exact timeline depends on the number of drunk driving convictions they have on their record.
Sometimes, the judge will give a DUI/DWI offender the option to attend a court-ordered detox program instead of jail. Specifically, they will suggest that the offender attends the 24/7 Sobriety Program, an alcohol treatment initiative founded by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. In this program, you’ll submit to full-time monitoring during which you may be tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs at any time.
The 24/7 Sobriety Program is only offered to first-time DUI or DWI offenders. It is not offered as a substitute for rehab treatment. Instead, it aims to reduce the recidivism of DUI offenders and to keep the community safe.
In some states, the judge will occasionally allow DUI offenders to seek addiction treatment before they are tried for their crime. This allows the offender to clean their life up and prove that they’re trying to change before they face prosecution. It usually results in a reduced jail sentence. It may not, however, work to reduce the fine or the length of license suspension.
If a DUI offender opts to defer their prosecution, they must detox from alcohol and check into rehab. After they’ve completed a rehab program, they will return to the judge and make the argument that they’ve changed. If an offender is granted deferred prosecution and stays out of trouble for the next five years, the charges are dismissed.
Citizens only qualify for deferred prosecution one per lifetime. Therefore, it’s important that you make the most of the opportunity if it is granted to you.
Your first DUI sentence will be determined by your BAC level at the time of arrest. As pointed out above, other factors such as a minor in the vehicle may also impact the sentence.
BAC Below 0.15
BAC Above 0.15 or Test Refusal
A second DUI comes with a greater sentence. The penalty ranges and depends on several factors including prior offenses during the look-back period.
BAC Below 0.15
BAC Above 0.15 or Test Refusal
BAC Below 0.15
BAC Above 0.15 or Test Refusal
Currently, Washington state’s driving under the influence laws do not view single DUIs as a felony. In most cases, the crime is charged as a misdemeanor. However, there are certain exceptions.
A fourth-time DUI offense, for example, is likely to be charged as a felony. In 2017, Washington Legislature passed a bill that declares any person who violates the state’s DUI laws more than 4 times within 10 years can be charged as a felon. Under this new law, anyone found guilty of 4 DUIs within the 10-year period faces up to 17 months in county jail.
Additionally, the law states that any fifth offenders, no matter the timeframe, may be charged and convicted as a felon. This means that someone who receives 5 DUIs, each several years apart, might find themselves with a hefty prison sentence.
Of course, anyone who finds themselves for four or more DUI sentences should consider the possibility that they have a bigger problem on their hands. If you drive drunk that frequently and cannot stop yourself, it is likely that you suffer from alcohol use disorder. We suggest that you seek treatment for alcoholism before the problem gets worse.
Washington state’s driving under the influence laws are tough. Breaking them can get you into a whole world of trouble. But, a DUI charge doesn’t mean your life is over…
A DUI/DWI arrest can leave you feeling ashamed, hopeless, and isolated. But, don’t worry too much. You still have the chance to get your life back.
Remember, you're not alone. Washington state DUI statistics show that more than more than 20,000 residents are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol each year. Nationally, over a million Americans are arrested for DUI annually. Fortunately, a lot of these folks are able to turn their lives around.
So, the charges aren’t going to ruin your life, especially if it’s your first time. The important thing is that you make better choices from here on out.
Here are some tips for making the most of your post-DUI life and getting yourself back on the right path:
This step may be tough but it is crucial. In order to avoid any subsequent DUI offenses, the best thing you can do is to quit drinking. This will not only help you stay out of trouble but will also show the court that you’re striving for change.
If you are unable to abstain from alcohol, you may have a problem on your hands. One of the most common signs of alcoholism is being unable to quit drinking despite the negative consequences.
This step is particularly important for folks who have a second or third DUI offense. If you find yourself in that situation, you should seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
Remember, alcohol withdrawals can be dangerous. If you have a severe alcohol dependency, you should attend a professional detox program. These programs will help you quit drinking safely.
Getting a DUI, especially in Washington state, can be stressful. It’s likely that you’ll lose your license. You’ll also have to pay a large fine. Of course, paying that fine can be difficult if you lose your job due to the charges.
So, you need to make sure that you have supportive people around you. It’s important that you surround yourself with folks who can help you through your tough time. Support is crucial. Even if they can’t help you financially, it’s nice if you have people to talk to.
If you have struggled with alcohol in the past, use this time to apologize and make amends. Let your family know that you’re sorry for your actions and that you’re striving to change.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a great place to get the support you need. This is a free resource designed to help alcohol addicts overcome their habit. AA meetings take place every day in nearly every town across the US.
At this time, you might not think that you’re an alcoholic. You may believe that you have the problem under control. That could be the case. However, an AA meeting can still help. Folks from all walks of life attend meetings on a regular basis. Many of them have lived through the experience of a DUI. It can be helpful to see someone who has been where you are but has turned their life around.
In some instances, the court may order you to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. This is good. Not only is it likely to reduce your sentence, but it gives you a place to connect with other people whose lives have been impacted by alcohol.
One of the consequences of a DUI arrest in Washington is mandatory drunk driving courses. In these courses, offenders spend time studying DUI statistics and learning about the dangers of their behavior. Occasionally, these meetings will include group support sessions and therapy.
These classes might seem silly. After all, everyone knows the danger of drunk driving. But, it’s important that you attend any classes or programs appointed by the court. If you skip out on these classes, you’re likely to face a larger penalty. The penalty may include a longer jail sentence, a higher fine, or an increased license suspension.
Look at these classes as a blessing, not a burden, because they will probably reduce your penalty.
This should go without saying. However, if your license is suspended for a DUI (or any other reason), don’t drive. If you’re caught driving while your license is revoked, the length of the suspension increases. Additionally, you may be required to pay a fine.
If you continue to drive with an invalid license after that, you could lose your license indefinitely.
So, before you hop into the driver’s seat, make sure that your license is valid. If you’re wondering how to check if your license is suspended in Washington, click here.
If you’ve violated the DWI/DUI laws in Washington state, you might need professional addiction treatment. After all, driving while under the influence isn’t a healthy behavior. It not only puts your own life at risk but also threatens the safety of those around you.
The best way to move beyond this type of behavior is to get alcohol out of your system entirely. You can do that by going through a professional detox program. In detox, doctors will help you to withdraw from alcohol so that it’s no longer in your system.
Once you’ve finished detox, you have the option to undergo alcohol rehabilitation. In rehab, you’ll spend a few weeks learning about addiction and working to prevent a relapse. During the rehab program, you’ll work with therapists to understand the reasons why you drink and to develop coping skills for fighting off your triggers. Additionally, you’ll meet regularly with doctors who will monitor the status of your health to ensure that you’re safe.
There are many different types of rehab. Each one is catered to the needs of different types of addicts. Inpatient rehab, for example, is designed for those alcoholics who want to live in a treatment center for a few weeks. Outpatient rehab, on the other hand, is designed for those who want to live at home and attend treatment during the day.
Whichever type of rehab you choose, it could be the best resource available to you. These programs will help you to move past your addiction so that you’re never arrested for a DUI again.
Your life isn’t over simply because you broke the DUI laws in Washington state.
No one wants to be arrested for a DUI. It can strip you of your license and leave you feeling ashamed and overwhelmed. But, the fact that you were caught drunk driving doesn’t make you a bad person.
Plenty of people have lived through it before and come out on the other side stronger than ever before.
If you need help coping with the aftermath of your actions, we can help. Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue is an intensive outpatient program in Bellevue, WA. We help individuals to overcome their struggles with drugs and alcohol. We can assist you as you work through this difficult time, so give us a call.
Give it a Rating!