In Washington, nearly half of all traffic fatalities involve an impaired driver, either using alcohol, drugs, or a combination
VANCOUVER — Impaired driving has long been a concern for Clark County citizens, and something the county’s law enforcement has taken very seriously. Nationwide, approximately a third of all traffic fatalities involve an impaired driver, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths in 2018. In Washington, nearly half of all traffic fatalities involve an impaired driver, either using alcohol, drugs, or a combination.
Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and Washougal Police Department, in partnership with Target Zero and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), are piloting a program wherein trained sworn officers can draw blood from suspected impaired drivers.
Washington State Implied Consent Law states that if a person has been lawfully arrested for driving or being in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs they have given consent to a breath test to determine alcohol concentration. If the subject refuses a breath test, or if the arresting officer can articulate Probable Cause for the impaired driving offense, a warrant may be obtained for a sample of the subject’s blood. This law and its options have long been in practice in Washington, and historically warrant blood draws have been conducted by medical personnel either in an ambulance or in a hospital setting.
This pilot program, staffed by four CCSO deputies and a Washougal police officer, is funded by a grant from WTSC. These officers have prior experience in the medical field, and are certified to draw blood.
Both the Sheriff’s Office and Washougal Police Department have set aside rooms in their facilities in order to conduct blood draws both safely and effectively.
After researching similar programs in this and other states, having officers’ on-call for these duties greatly reduced DUI processing time for both officers and arrestees, and ensured greater accountability and evidence chain of custody. Prior requests of medical providers to conduct blood draws for criminal purposes proved to be both time consuming and detracting from the missions of these organizations.
Clark County Sheriff Chuck E. Atkins said of the pilot program, “Our desire for this program is to give our officers an effective and efficient tool to investigate impaired driving, while preserving the rights and safety of our citizens. Equipping trained deputies to conduct legal blood draws greatly streamlines our abilities, freeing a deputy return to patrol in a fraction of the time.”
Hilary Torres, Clark County Target Zero Manager said, “We enjoy this partnership with Clark County and Washougal PD in supporting DUI investigations. This blood draw program and others like it in Washington are serving as examples for combating DUI and related traffic crimes, as one of many tools we are employing to ultimately reduce traffic-related fatalities.”
Information provided by Clark County Sheriff’s Office.