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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington bill would ban open pot containers in vehicles

Chad Sokol Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA – Drivers couldn’t have an open container of marijuana in their cars under broad legislation to crack down on driving under the influence.

Convicted drunk drivers could have their cars fitted with GPS devices so state troopers could track them. And getting someone else to blow into an ignition interlock device would become a crime.

These are just a few of the provisions in a 51-page bill sponsored by Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, which got a second hearing Monday before the General Government and Information Technology Committee.

Klippert said the state’s DUI laws need to be updated. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports that 436 people died in car crashes in 2013, and half the crashes involved a drunk or drug-impaired driver.

The marijuana provision says drivers can’t have an open container of pot in the passenger area of a vehicle, which includes the glove box. Marijuana must be stored in its original sealed container in the vehicle’s trunk or a storage space.

Glenn Phillips, a municipal judge from Kent, said at an earlier hearing the bill as written would not apply to loose marijuana, such as a cigarette. Sponsors and supporters agreed some amendments are necessary.

Much of the bill focuses on ignition interlock devices, which require a driver to blow into a tube to prove their blood-alcohol content is below the legal limit before their car will start. A court can order an interlock be installed after a second-time or very serious first DUI conviction.

The number of people ordered to use the devices soared from 6,000 in 2009 to about 18,000 this year, as they proved to be effective at preventing impaired driving, said Darrin Grondel, of the safety commission.

The bill would require interlocks to have GPS capability, which the Washington State Patrol could use to track drivers suspected of tampering with or circumventing their devices. Drivers often get around the devices by having sober passengers blow into them. The devices are fitted with cameras to monitor when that happens.

“Pictures show that sometimes a driver will even ask young children to blow into the device,” Grondel said, but “even armed with picture evidence, prosecutors have been unable to charge the driver with a crime.” The bill would make it a gross misdemeanor for someone other than the driver to blow into the device.

Under current law, impaired drivers can receive longer sentences for vehicular homicide, attempting to outrun police or driving with a minor passenger. Those sentences are sometimes cut short for good behavior. The bill would make those extensions mandatory and served consecutively.

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