Just five Kitsap County residents were arrested and booked for driving while intoxicated (DUI) during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to the Washington State Patrol.
That seems, on its face, a highly positive number for a county of roughly 260,000 residents.
But the story behind the story paints a bleaker picture.
State and local law enforcement officials see that number, and conclude that the real reason isn’t so much that drivers were uncharacteristically careful. More likely, it’s because trooper retirements, attrition and transfers have depleted the department roster far faster than the recruitment and training process allows WSP to replace them. Fewer troopers means fewer impaired-driving busts — and that, in turn, means fewer troopers available to respond to other roadside emergencies.
Trooper Russ Winger, a communications officer with WSP based in the Bremerton office, noted that retirements and reassignments have hit the agency hard. Some are moving on because it’s cheaper to live in other, more rural parts of the state. Another reason is a huge hiring initiative that occurred about 25 years ago. Those troopers have now reached retirement age, so they are leaving en masse.
“Right now, there are 139 vacancies for new troopers statewide,” Winger said. The department is losing eight to nine troopers each month, he said, and it takes months to recruit, qualify, train and commission their replacements.
In Kitsap County, there are currently five to six troopers on the road — but Winger says they would like to be closer to six or seven.
State Patrol troopers made approximately 211 arrests or bookings of impaired drivers. This number entails statewide dispatch records from 8 a.m. July 1 to 5 a.m. July 5. That number compares to 235 arrests made statewide during the July 4 holiday in 2015. The data will continue to change until all WSP timesheet reports are in and calculated, Winger said.
On a statewide basis, impaired driving was a primary cause in 46 percent of all traffic related deaths in Washington state in 2015. Impaired driving also includes drug-positive drivers. Last year, Washington state saw a 14-percent increase in fatal collisions from drug-positive drivers, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. In 2015, the state experienced 203 fatal collisions caused by drug-positive drivers, compared to 178 in 2014.
Motorists have a role to play in maintaining safe roads, particularly in a difficult budget climate. WSP urges drivers to drive sober and remain vigilant of other vehicles. If a motorist sees someone driving erratically, that is considered an emergency and they are urged to call 911. While it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving, it’s legal to use one to call 911 to report an emergency.