Looking at the constant media coverage about the “dangers of drunk driving,” you might be forgiven if you think that our state is facing an epidemic of impaired drivers. But when you look at the numbers, they tell a significantly different story.
According to data released by the Washington courts, the total number of DUI cases submitted for prosecution has dropped by about a third in just five years' time. In 2009, there were more than 40,000 DUI charges filed, but that figure plunged to under 30,000 in 2014. If you live in Kitsap County, the decline is even steeper - with fewer than 600 DUI cases being filed in 2015 as compared to the roughly 1,350 recorded in 2006.
An article highlights several theories about the drop in DUI charges. Some believe that the anti-DUI messages pushed by governments and advocacy groups are getting through and changing drivers' behavior. Collision statistics support this argument; the Washington Department of Transportation reports that there were fewer than 5,600 intoxicant-related crashes last year, compared to more than 8,200 in 2006.
Others are concerned about a depleted Washington State Patrol force, which currently has 115 vacancies; meaning that the WSP officers who are on the job are handling bigger caseloads and aren't able to catch as many DUI offenders. In addition, the ever-changing procedures are making it more difficult for officers to investigate and prosecute DUI cases (and, in the case of marijuana, breath tests are of no use in detecting intoxication levels).
There may be other factors as well, but one thing's for sure: compared to a decade ago, impaired driving isn't the “societal scourge” that it used to be.