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Washington State DUI Vehicle Impoundment

How do I find my car after a DUI arrest?

One of the most frustrating aspects of the DUI arrest is the mandatory impoundment. We have seen numerous cars get towed out of their own driveways when an officer follows someone home.

The state of Washington has implemented numerous laws in its effort to crack down on drunk driving. But residents may not be aware of one of the most recent pieces of legislation pertaining to DUI suspects to take effect. Whenever a person is arrested for driving under the influence in the state of Washington, the vehicle that he or she was driving must be impounded by police and remain impounded for at least 12 hours. (If the car is owned or co-owned by someone other than the person who has been arrested, they can claim the vehicle before the 12 hours have elapsed.)  The tow companies are ecstatic about this one.

The catalyst for this new law was an incident back in 2007 in Whatcom County. A woman was arrested for DUI but released by police before she sobered up. She then got back behind the wheel of her vehicle and proceeded to crash into another vehicle and seriously injure one of its occupants.

Proponents of the measure claim that many jails lack the space to detain drunk drivers, so they often release DUI suspects on their own recognizance after they have been booked and processed. But they say the courts didn't have the authority to hold vehicles of individuals whom they suspected were still too drunk to drive.

However, civil rights experts are irritated about the rigidity of the new law. Now, police are required to impound vehicles of DUI suspects and are not given the discretion to allow the vehicle to be driven home by a sober occupant or by a family member or friend called to the scene by the driver. Additionally, they argue that jail staff are trained to release people who are not a flight risk or a risk or reoffending and have been doing so for decades. One exception doesn't change the rule.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that all DUI suspects are innocent until proven guilty. So if a person is arrested for DUI but the charges are subsequently dropped or he or she is later acquitted, the suspect has still been deprived of his or her vehicle for several hours because of the law. The officers make arrest decisions at one of the low threshold of probable cause, which is far below 50% certainty. Only one legal standard lies below probable cause, reasonable suspicion is what an officer needs to walk up and talk with you on the street.

Lacking from the officers decision to impound the car is the breath test result. Those that put their faith in the breath test machines may even raise an eyebrow knowing that an officer is deciding to impound for 12 hours with only the driving and personal contact as a basis for their decision.

This law joins recent ignition interlock laws which have created a happy lobby of ignition interlock companies. Tow companies now join the party and stand to profit greatly from this law.

Although it remains legal to drink and drive, if an officer wants to take you down to the station for a breath test, your car must be impounded. Even if you blow under the legal limit at the station.

Who Has My Car?

The law enforcement agency that arrested you has the information you need.  Call us and we can help you figure it out.

For Seattle Police Department arrests call the nonemergency line 206-625-5011.

For Washington State Patrol arrests call the local district office:

District 1 Office Directory - Tacoma: (253) 538-3240

District 2 Office Directory - Bellevue: (425) 401-7788

District 3 Office Directory - Yakima: (509) 575-2320

District 4 Office Directory - Spokane: (509) 227-6566

District 5 Office Directory - Vancouver: (360) 449-7999

District 6 Office Directory - Wenatchee: (509) 682-8090

District 7 Office Directory - Marysville: (360) 654-1204

District 8 Office Directory - Bremerton: (360) 473-0300

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