Letters to the Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR | ‘Legal limit’ is not safe

To the editor:

The Record’s March 2 article, “Clinton man charged in highway crash” closed with “the legal limit for driving is 0.08 percent.”

For years, most of the DUI arrest or crash articles I’ve read in the South Whidbey Record and Whidbey News-Times have ended with that phrase. That merely ingrains in people it’s OK to drive unless you’re over the “legal limit.”

No. The “legal limit” is simply the number above which an adult is automatically guilty of driving under the influence. This is called per se and 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.

In your recent editorial regarding WICA serving alcohol it states, “Intermissions could be limited so that no one leaves the theater with more than a .07 percent alcohol level,” and then continues with “but that’s hardly necessary with the crowd WICA attracts.”

There are two wrongs in that statement and they sure don’t make a right. And I’m not here to address WICA serving alcohol.

After providing over 350 DUI prevention panels on Whidbey in the past 13 years with over 25,000 attendees — most not offenders, thank goodness — I can tell you that generally people have been 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 consuming even small amounts of alcohol can hamper judgment and decrease reaction time. A number of offenders at our panels were charged with DUI after failing roadside sobriety tests even though they blew 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.

Please reporters, help educate the public by adding in future DUI articles, “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.”

As for the “crowd” referenced in the editorial: DUI has no class distinction. Our panel audiences have also attracted its share of folks in professional fields. No, we don’t survey, we recognized them.

Only they didn’t buy a ticket, they were given one.

JOANN HELLMANN

Director, Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County

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