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Hailey's Law: effective July 22, driver and car both go to jail after DUI arrest

A new era of enforcement will hit the roads of San Juan County, as well as the rest of the state, whenHailey’s Law goes into effect July 22.

Approved by the Legislature earlier this year, Senate Bill 5000, also known as Hailey’s Law, places a mandatory 12-hour impound on any vehicle driven by a person arrested for driving under the influence, or DUI.

San Juan County Sheriff Rob Nou said that enforcement of the new law will effectively mean that a vehicle will be towed from the scene of a DUI arrest and then held under impound for a minimum of 12 hours before it can be released by the company that tows it. Furthermore, Nou added, most towing companies will generally demand payment for a tow and for storage before releasing an impounded vehicle. The costs can add up quickly, he said.

According to the sheriff’s department, the number of people arrested for DUI totaled 47 in 2009 and 42 in 2010.

“It’s another deterrent that people should think about before they get behind the wheel,” Nou said.

Named after Hailey French of Whatcom County, the law removes whatever discretion a deputy or police officer once had in determining what to do with a vehicle and instead requires that it be towed from the scene of a DUI arrest. About 40,000 people are arrested each year for DUI in Washington state, according to the Washington State Patrol.

French was severely injured in a head-on collision with a drunk driver on Mount Baker Highway in January 2007. The driver, Janine Parker, had been arrested for DUI several hours before the crash but was not booked into jail, nor was her vehicle impounded. Parker was driven home by a state trooper who warned her not to drive until she had sobered up, a warning that she ignored. She went back to her car and then caused the crash.

French was awarded $5.5 million by a jury two years ago after she sued Whatcom County and the State Patrol.

Exemptions exist

As is the case with most laws, Hailey’s law contains exemptions.

If an automobile has two registered owners, such as a husband and wife, the one not arrested can reclaim it before the 12-hour mandatory impound has elapsed. Similarly, a registered owner can reclaim their car if someone else driving it is arrested for DUI.

Still, Undersheriff Jon Zerby said the exemptions come with strings attached. Zerby said the law requires that a vehicle must be towed from the scene and that the mandatory 12-hour impound will remain in effect if a registered owner is a passenger in the vehicle at the time a driver is arrested for DUI.

“In a case like that they would have been allowing someone to drive illegally,” he noted.

While requirements of the new law are clear, Zerby said the Sheriff’s department will have to improvise in order to comply with its intent in the areas of the islands where a towing company is unavailable, like Lopez. He said that deputies on Lopez will be equipped with “clubs,” a metal bar that locks onto a steering wheel, to prevent a vehicle from being driven while it is subject to the 12-hour mandatory impound rule.

“On Lopez, we’ll park it, lock it and club it,” Zerby said. “That’s our plan for the moment.”

 

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