Serving Franklin County, WA

Bills attempt to improve road safety

Measures target crosswalks, sidewalks, DUIs

OLYMPIA - Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and Gov. Jay Inslee say they are backing a package of new laws aimed at protecting workers, pedestrians and commuters.

New bills include reducing the blood-alcohol concentration limit for operating a vehicle when driving, imposing more restrictions on high-risk drivers and requiring a skills course for young and older drivers.

Amber Weilert, a mother from Parkland, described how a drunken driver took the life of her son.

"I am here to be Michael's voice to support him and make sure that this doesn't happen again," Weilert said, asking lawmakers to think about her son and make roads safer.

"I'm here because safety isn't a partisan issue. It's about all of us working together," said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. "When you look at a list of bills that are here. Most of them may have a Democratic sponsor, but I can tell you there are numerous Republican names right behind it."

Proponents include Inslee, King, Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, and Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma.

Many roads, like the one in Parkland where young Michael Wielert died, do not have sidewalks for pedestrians, according to bill advocates.

"Our transportation system is not safe. People from all communities across the state of Washington are being injured and killed at unacceptably high rates," Deputy Director of the Transportation Choices Coalition Kelsey Mesh said. "We cannot be numb or complacent to this."

Inslee's proposed 2023-25 budget includes $3 million to build nine crosswalk signals along State Highway 7, including Pacific Avenue in Parkland where Weilert's son died.

Last year, the state recorded 745 traffic deaths, the highest since 1990.

"We have a team assembled here behind me, and I believe that the state Legislature this year will take significant steps to reduce this carnage on our highways," Inslee said. "At least half of the deaths on our roadways are caused by impaired people, which is not acceptable to see."

Senate Bill 5002, sponsored by Lovick and co-sponsored by Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, reduces the blood-alcohol limit for operating a vehicle from 0.08 to 0.05. That includes driving under the influence of liquor, cannabis or any other drug.

To enforce these laws, Inslee said it is essential to have more regional criminal justice training centers and more trained officers.

"We owe these people safety when they're taking care of our safety," he said. "We need additional law personnel to do the work that is necessary to remind people to be safe."

Senate Bill 5272, sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, and co-sponsored by King authorizes, the use of speed safety camera systems in work zones.

An additional bill, Senate Bill 5583, introduced by Liias, will require young drivers ages 18-25 to take driver's education courses.

Senate Bill 5560, introduced by Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, creates a program where an older driver may voluntarily surrender a driver's license before the expiration date to receive a new ID card at no cost. The bill defines an older driver as someone age 70 or older.

The bill also authorizes the Department of Licensing to shorten the time period by which the driver's license of an older driver expires and allows the department to require older drivers to successfully complete a knowledge and skills refresher course.


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