“This is not data, these are people”: Tri-Cities crackdown on DUIs as WA sets record number of fatalities

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Law enforcement agencies from across the Tri-Cities region are putting an emphasis on stopping drunk drivers as Washington state suffers a consequential rise in DUI-related deaths during the pandemic.

According to a release by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), the seven key law enforcement agencies that protect the Tri-Cities area will enforce extra DUI patrols starting on December 15. Those agencies are as follows:

  • Benton County Sheriff’s Office
  • Franklin County Sheriff’s Office
  • Kennewick Police Department
  • Pasco Police Department
  • Richland Police Department
  • Washington State Patrol
  • West Richland Police Department

READ: Kennewick man killed after rollover crash in Benton County

Data from the Traffic Safety Commission shows that 2020 was one of the deadliest years of DUI-related crashes in Washington’s history—a trend that likely followed into 2021 based on preliminary findings.

Alcohol wasn’t the only contributing factor during this rise in fatal DUI crashes. WTSC reported a new record for fatal crashes involving polydrug drivers (those who were impaired with more than one substance).

Jennifer Dorsett, the Target Zero Manager for Region 14, said more than 50% of statewide fatalities are caused by polydrug drivers. In our area, the number rises even higher to 70%.

“We’re looking at a mixture of alcohol and cannabis, or cannabis and opioids, or alcohol and opioids,” Dorsett said. “It’s important to know we’re all responsible on the road.”

WTSC Program Manager Mark Medalen believes that any community member can make a difference when it comes to preventing DUI deaths.

Tri-Cities

Image courtesy of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission

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“Everyone can be a hero when it comes to saving a life from someone driving drunk or high,” Medalen said. “That means making a plan that doesn’t put you behind the wheel if you are drinking or using cannabis. Most people in Washington will also step in to protect lives by preventing someone else from driving impaired.”

Drunk drivers are a danger to themselves and others, which is why Medalen believes that the best way to intervene with a drunk driver is to call 9-1-1 if you suspect someone on the road is impaired.

“Seeing someone you think is driving drunk or high – and at risk for hurting themselves or others – is the definition of emergency,” Medalen said. “If you encounter someone on the road who might be impaired, call 911 so law enforcement can step in and possibly prevent a crash. Your call could save someone’s life.”

READ: It’s time for Washington drivers to bring out the chains, WSP says

The trends of 2020, which saw the highest number of fatality crashes involving a DUI since 2006, continued into this year. August of 2021 is shaping up to be the deadliest in Washington state since 1997.

In an effort to curb this trend, Tri-Cities authorities are going to ramp up their patrols for the holiday season starting immediately.

“With holiday parties and travel, December can see an increase in impaired driving – but not if we insist on sober driving and taking steps to prevent it,” Medalen said. “Recent trends are concerning, but we have hope we can turn things around. We know that when it comes to stopping someone from driving impaired, most people in Washington will do the right thing.”

The main message? To celebrate responsibly.

“Traffic crashes are preventable. These are caused by human behaviors, human choices. These are not numbers, these are not stats, this is not data, these are people. These are our friends and family. These are our neighbors,” Medalen said. “Probably the most dangerous thing that we do all day long, most of us, is getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle so there’s going to be a lot of travel. Get out there and enjoy your friends and family and those gatherings safely.”

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