SEATTLE -- A loophole in Washington state law that was recently closed will make it harder for convicted DUI drivers to get behind the wheel. And that pleases state troopers who say there's been an uptick in DUI-related deaths this year.
The loophole involved the ignition interlock device -- a breathalyzer attached to the car. A person has to blow into it to prove they are sober before they can start the vehicle. Until June, drivers under a one-year suspension were able to get away without having an interlock device until the last four months of their sentence.
Language in the law has now been clarified to ensure drivers with a one-year suspension will have to keep the interlock device for all 365 days.
GPS and webcams are also included in this update to ensure that drivers are the ones actually giving the sample. Sgt. Brandon Villanti, who heads the ignition interlock program for the Washington State Patrol, says he's seen people in the past try to use air compressors, children, and even pets to attempt to unlock the device.
"Every time the legislature gives us additional tools when it comes to either clarifying language or new laws, it makes our job easier," said Villanti.
Another clarifying piece of language is helping troopers when it comes to foreign jurisdiction laws -- how they deal with Washington residents who get DUIs out-of-state or what to do with visitors who get DUIs when they come to Washington.
WSP is also working to clarify employer exemption laws. That has to do with people who are self-employed or work for a company that requires them to drive a car. The employer is currently allowed to waive the interlock in their company vehicles when used for business purposes.
Clarifying laws may not be a conversation starter, but the ultimate goal is to save lives and keep bad drivers off the road. While he does not have hard numbers, Villanti says he's definitely seen an uptick in DUI-related deadly crashes across the state.
WSP estimates there are 20,000 Washington drivers who use an interlock device. It also estimates 10,000 more drivers are required to use an interlock device but don't have one. That could mean they are driving illegally or not driving at all.
Despite those challenges, troopers say clarification, on top of the laws in place, are making a difference.
"It helps us to investigate the crimes a lot better," said Villanti. "When we had a crime in the past, we were just having to follow up with the person."