April 8th, 2018
Law enforcement has announced that "E-DUI" enforcement patrols will be stepped up in April with over 150 Washington police agencies participating. "E-DUI" refers to Washington State's distracted driving law which went into effect on July 23, 2017. It's called "E-DUI" because, as is pointed out on the DOL's webpage, talking on a cell phone while driving is the same as driving at a .08 alcohol level. DOL also says that texting while driving is the same as driving at a .16 alcohol level - double the legal limit. So, it makes sense that the penalties for an alcohol DUI are the same as for an E-DUI, right? Let's find out.
For a first offense DUI, the Washington State penalties include one day in jail minimum (up to a year), a fine of approximately $1,000 (up to $5,000), three years of high risk insurance, a 90 day license suspension (up to two years), ignition interlock for a year, up to five years on probation, and a permanent criminal record.
What's the penalty for the new "E-DUI?" First of all, it's not even a crime, so there's no criminal record and no jail is possible. The penalty for an E-DUI is $136 for the first offense, and $234 for the second offense. That's it.
For over thirty years, I've been providing vigorous representation to folks who are faced with the frightening and harsh penalties that come if there is a DUI conviction. I know that many people who are arrested for DUI are unaware that their alcohol level is over the limit. By comparison, every person who is driving and talks or texts on a cell phone they're holding knows that they are breaking the law.
Either the penalties for an alcohol DUI are too harsh, or the penalty for an E-DUI is too lenient. The legislature can't have it both ways. On the one hand, every year the legislature looks for ways to make the DUI laws harsher and arguably the laws are now too harsh. On the other hand, if the DUI laws are not deemed too harsh, then the E-DUI law the legislature passed last year is just a feel-good hypocrisy.