All too often an article appears in this paper about someone getting arrested for driving under the influence or causing a DUI crash.
It invariably ends with a statement noting the driver’s blood alcohol content was .10 percent or above, “while the legal limit is 0.08 percent.”
To whit: Whidbey News-Times March 2 article, “Clinton man charged in highway crash.”
After providing more than 350 DUI prevention panels on Whidbey Island in the past 13 years with over 25,000 attendees — most not offenders, thank goodness I can tell you that generally people were surprised to learn that having a BAC below the “legal limit” can still get a driver arrested and convicted of a DUI or a related charge.
That’s because adults with a .08 BAC or higher are “per se” DUI in Washington state.
This means that at this level such drivers are seen as intoxicated in the eyes of the law with no additional proof of driving impairment necessary.
However, you can be convicted of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor even when your BAC is below 0.08 percent.
That’s because consuming even small amounts of alcohol can hamper judgment and decrease reaction time. I saw cases in which individuals were charged with DUI after failing roadside sobriety tests even though they blew well below the legal limit.
Failing those tests showed they were affected by alcohol to a degree the patrol officer judged they were unsafe to drive.
It would be of service to your readers if your reporters could help educate the public about this “legal limit.”
Perhaps reporters could at the end of future DUI articles something along the lines of “while the legal limit is .08 BAC, under Washington state law a driver can still be convicted of driving under the influence below this level.”
JoAnn Hellmann, Director
Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County