Legal Review: Incidences of Drunk Driving Increase in Washington, D.C.

By Criminal Defense Attorney Matthew Wilson of Price Benowitz LLP

While the number of fatalities due to drunk driving has been shrinking around the country, they continue to rise in Washington, D.C.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, those fatalities increased by 33 percent in 2017. It has led some to call for tighter laws regarding drunk driving in the city. But is that really the answer?

The Washington Post points to the fact that D.C. has the lowest number of people driving with interlock ignition devices when compared with three states. These states are also trying to combat high incidences of drunk driving fatalities. In Maryland there are 16,000 drivers required to use these devices. Virginia has less than half that with 7,000. In D.C., there are only 18.

The number for D.C. may seem low, but does it really tell the whole story? Interlock ignition devices are only meant to be used in certain cases. One DUI charge does not mean that an ignition interlock is automatically installed.

In fact, they are only used with those that have restricted licenses. These are granted by the courts when an individual has been convicted of a DUI, but still needs a vehicle to travel to work or other authorized locations.

It is also important to consider that the Metropolitan Police Department has been making more drunk driving arrests. In the fiscal year 2018, there was a 13 percent increase in these arrests. That is an average of an arrest every seven hours. Clearly officers are out there enforcing the laws. Is it really necessary to make them stronger?

While the rise in drunk driving fatalities is concerning, it is a problem the country has been facing since the end of prohibition. Tougher laws are not always the answer. With local law enforcement already making more arrests than last year, increased pressure to do more could have innocent people stopped without probable cause.

“Drunk driving is an extremely serious issue,” says DUI attorney Matthew Wilson of Price Benowitz, LLP. “Tougher laws though, do not always solve the problem. Laws are already in place to keep individuals from getting behind the wheel when they have had too much to drink. Making them harsher is likely not going to have the desired effect.”

A study conducted in 2015 certainly seems to back that up. It found that there is no real correlation between the strength of a state’s DUI laws and the number of fatalities on a state’s roads.

Instead, the study pointed to population density as being a key factor. Washington, D.C.’s population just hit the 700,000 mark in February of 2018. That is just under 12,000 people per square mile, and that high population density may be the real reason for the high number of drunk driving fatalities last year.

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