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DUI rate well above norm for Sammamish teens, city searches for answer

Local students observe what can happen when driving under the influence.   - File photo
Local students observe what can happen when driving under the influence.
— image credit: File photo

When reviewing DUI averages over the last three years, Sammamish police Chief Nate Elledge immediately focused on one statistic.

Of the approximate 50 DUI arrests made per year, 20 drivers, or 40 percent, were under the age of 21. Many of those were under 18.

“We’ve got a lot of kids up here on the Plateau and I think the majority of them are excellent, but this is a number that was pretty alarming to us,” Elledge said.

Reaching out to surrounding communities, Elledge realized the problem was unique to Sammamish. He said cities like Issaquah and Redmond average 10-12 percent of their DUI drivers being under the age of 21. That leaves Sammamish 30 percent higher than its neighbors.

“It’s a bedroom community if you want to call it that, and we’ve got a lot of families here and a lot of teenagers,” Elledge said. “We’ve got three high schools here right on the main drag and we’ve got a lot of teenagers in that age group who might be experimenting.”

In an effort to solve the issue, the Sammamish Police Department organized members from all corners of the community to form a Youth Impaired Driving Initiative.

The last two months members of Rotary, school districts, driving schools, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, parents, insurance reps, city officials and several high school students themselves have met to find an answer. The group gathered once a month, with the next meeting, the first public event, scheduled at the end of March.

“It’s really a community based problem, it’s not just a police problem,” Elledge said. “When we’re dealing with any issue, enforcement’s not the only option, especially when you’re looking at crime prevention.”

Sgt. Jessica Sullivan noted 50 percent of the DUIs over the last three years were alcohol related. The other half involved prescription drugs or other narcotics.

“The attitudes toward drugs and alcohol and what kids admit to trying are pretty startling,” she said.

Sullivan said the absence of the DARE program has definitely hurt students as nothing has replaced it.

Elledge said he hopes to have a plan in place before graduation season when the risks of DUI accidents become even higher.

“We’ve got to take some action on this so we can prevent someone from getting hurt or seriously injured,” he said.

The next Youth Impaired Driving Initiative meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 27 in the Sammamish City Council chambers.

“We’ve had a pretty good discussion now twice on what can we do and what is the potential cause of this and now it’s time to put up some action steps,” Elledge said.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Youth Impaired Driving meeting

6:30 p.m.,  March 27

Sammamish City Council Chambers


 

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