Impaired Drunk Driving Enforcement
May 14, 2012 Leave a comment
By Editorial Board, Washington Post, Published: May 11
OFFICIALS IN the administration of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray are quick to point out that the issues with faulty equipment used in arresting suspected drunk drivers surfaced during the prior administration. But that was two years ago. It’s a bit unsettling that the city is still without breath-test machines. Surely it shouldn’t be that hard to get equipment that is a standard tool for law enforcement everywhere.
This week the District announced settlement agreements in cases of drivers who challenged their drunken-driving convictions because of unreliable, and in some cases false, test results. The Post’s Mary Pat Flaherty reported that the city will pay a total of $20,000 plus attorneys’ fees to four drivers; 16 similar cases are pending. Failure to calibrate and regularly check the equipment resulted in a driver’s blood-alcohol level being reported as higher than it actually was in cases that stretched back to 2008.
It’s good that D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan is working to clear up these lawsuits, but why hasn’t more progress been made in replacing the equipment? Officials said they first thought they could resolve the problems with new machines, but a panel of outside experts said last fall that an overhaul of the program was needed. There also seems to have been somewhat of a standoff between the Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in how to best approach the issue, but that has been resolved. Now the city hopes to phase in new equipment in July or August.
Officials assured us that the city has not slacked off its pursuit and prosecutions of impaired drivers, using roadside observations and urinalysis results. Arrests of impaired drivers this year as of April 30 totaled 435, compared with 431 for the same time period in 2011 and 447 in 2010. So serious is the administration about this issue that Mr. Nathan told us it would soon introduce legislation that will update the laws on drunken driving to include tougher requirements and increased penalties. We hope the city soon has the appropriate technology and procedures to match.