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Hailey’s Law: Car Accident Injury Leads to New State Law, Possibly New Precedent

In effect in Washington as of July 22 of this year, “Hailey’s Law mandates that law enforcement officials must impound the car of a person arrested for impaired driving – in most cases for at least 12 hours.The only exception is if the person arrested for driving while under the influence isn’t actually the registered owner of the car. In cases like that one, the registered owner will be allowed to retrieve their vehicle from the scene. Wrongful deaths and DUI accidents go hand in hand and this law will clearly reduce the number of persons unnecessarily dying due to these accidents.

The circumstances surrounding the incident further explain why the law has been hailed as a breakthrough regulation by many personal injury attorneys, who hope to see the law being picked up by other states and foresee its enforcement successfully increasing the safety of the state’s public highways.

The law is named for Hailey French, a woman who was severely injured in a head-on collision. The driver responsible had been arrested for DUI and released by law enforcement officers less than two hours earlier. The lawsuit brought against the driver and Washington officials alleged that officers failed to install a court-ordered alcohol ignition interlock device in the driver’s car after her previous DUI arrest. Instead, the arresting officer drove her home, and handed her the car keys with a warning to sober up. After he left, the drunk driver took a taxi back to her car, got back on the road, and crossed the center line before hitting Hailey French.

“We all know to take away the keys of a person who is drunk. This law, finally, does that,” said French’s attorney, Dean Brett.As a car accident attorney in Atlanta who is well-versed with the statistics of fatality car crashed involving DUIs, I would have to agree. It’s definitely a move that jails both the drunk driver and his mode of transportation. The 12 hour impound requirement, in theory, really forces the driver to take time to “cool off” and sober up before getting back behind the wheel and on the road. I would suggest that the period should probably be at least 24 hours and the person should have to undergo a breathalyzer before getting the keys back.

The purpose of this law is not long-term deterrence, but prevention of an immediate repeat offense. For long-term deterrence, we continue to need strict punishments, rehabilitation, treatment and preventive mechanisms on vehicles. While the fees for impoundment are around $200 or so, this amount is far too limited to serve as a deterrent effect for a repeat offender. Still, four years after her accident, and despite a $5.5 million verdict in her favor, French rightfully feels the costs can’t be compared. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than what I went through.” She says. “A car in the hands of a drunk driver is a weapon and it’s a weapon they don’t have the right to use.”