Research conducted over the last month on Washington roads may be an easy way for drivers to make a buck, but lawmakers call it priceless.
“To get a handle on, ‘Just how bad is this problem?’” explained Jonna VanDyk.
VanDyk is a program manager with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Her team assisted lawmakers in bringing crews from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation based in Washington D.C. to 6 counties in Washington state.
In prior weekends, crews have tested drivers in Spokane, Yakima, King, and Snohomish counties.
This weekend they’re in Whatcom and Kitsap counties.
With the opening of retail marijuana stores in July, law enforcement expects impaired driving to rise.
It’s already the number one cause for fatal accidents.
PIRE crews set up signs at busy intersections and drivers voluntarily participate. It’s the first time the national survey has been conducted in Washington.
Crew members ask drivers questions about drug and alcohol use, and if drivers agree, administer a breathalyzer test as well as a blood test.
Drivers can earn $60 if they complete the survey.
Government officials want a baseline for marijuana impaired driving statistics. The crews will return in about 7 months. They'll track how the numbers change after recreational stores open in just a few weeks.
“That’s why it was so urgent to get in here and grab that data,” VanDyk said.
This weekend is the last of three weekends of data collection. Crews expect to test about 900 drivers altogether.
Impaired drivers won’t be arrested. Crews will either ask someone else in the car to drive if they’re sober, or give the driver a free cab ride home.
The study is federally funded by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“We want to focus our attention on the #1 killer and that’s impaired driving,” VanDyk said.
The research will be used as lawmakers consider the state budget. They want to see how bad the problem is right now, Van Dyk says, in order to decide how much money is necessary to address issues that may result with the possible increase in impaired driving.
“There is concern, not only at the state level but at the national level, about what this is going to do for our driving population,” VanDyk said. “Washington is on the forefront of really a huge change.”
Sunday is the last night of the survey.