Why Drinking and Driving Is Such a Big Problem in Washington

Washingtonians drive and drink more than other Americans, according to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Addiction treatment statistics indicate that alcohol abuse is also a problem in the state.

In Washington, more people seek treatment for alcoholism than for any other substance. In 2015, 10 percent of the 35,000 Washingtonians who sought substance abuse treatment needed help with alcohol alone, and nearly 23 percent were addicted to alcohol and another substance.

You don’t have to be addicted to alcohol to drink and drive, though. Drinking and driving is more common than addiction to alcohol in Washington. Both issues have ruined or ended lives.

Between 2003 and 2012, drunk driving accidents ended the lives of 1,921 Washingtonians. Washington drunk driving deaths reached a six-year high in 2015, when 147 Washingtonians died as a result of alcohol-impaired driving.

Limited Transit Systems and a Booming Alcohol Industry

Washingtonians spend a lot of time in their cars. While the state’s largest cities have robust bus networks, only Seattle and Tacoma have rail transit. Those systems are limited in scope.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, Washingtonians spent an average of 26.4 minutes getting to work in 2015. More than 70 percent of those commuters drove cars.

Washingtonians drive a lot, and the state has more bars per person than 30 other states. It’s no surprise that Washingtonians drink and drive more often than other Americans.

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The beer industry in the state generated more than $6 billion in revenue in 2015, and the wine industry generated nearly $5 billion in 2013.

Hundreds of Washington vineyards attract international clientele. According to the Washington State Wine Commission, a trade group, more than 800,000 tourists visited Washington wineries in 2014, spending nearly $200 million.

Breweries also draw thousands of visitors. The state’s 353 breweries attract locals and tourists. According to Travelocity, the Seattle-Tacoma area is the third-best place for tourists to plan a “beercation,” ranking behind Portland and Denver.

Some breweries are inside urban areas. They’re accessible by public transportation, biking or walking. However, many breweries and most vineyards are outside of major cities. Many customers drive to tasting rooms and tours. Transit systems aren’t available, so they have to abstain from drinking to get home safely.

The Consequences of Drinking and Driving in Washington

Drinking and driving is dangerous to anyone on the road, not just the driver. Jason Ley was one such innocent person. The Yelm, Washington resident was involved in a minor fender bender in March 2017. While he exchanged his insurance information with the other driver, Ley was struck and killed by a drunk driver, according to KING 5 news.

Drunk driving is also dangerous to the driver. Many die or injure themselves in collisions. Others are convicted of driving under the influence. In 2015, 24,627 Washingtonians were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

DUI penalties are harsh in Washington. Offenders can spend up to 364 days in jail and have their licenses suspended for 90 days. When they resume driving, they must pay for an ignition interlock device that requires a clean breathalyzer test before their car will start.

Fines, legal fees and increased insurance costs add up. In all, the average Washington DUI conviction costs between $6,574.51 and $10,634.01, according to seattlepi.com. People with DUIs on their record have a hard time finding work.

Unfortunately, DUI convictions don’t end alcohol abuse. About one-third of offenders have a prior drunk driving conviction. One of the classic symptoms of addiction is continuing to abuse a substance regardless of the cost. Those who have difficulty controlling their drinking should seek recovery support from one of several resources in the state of Washington.

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