Tougher drunken driving rules OK'd in Rhode Island

| 7/18/2006

Drivers in Rhode Island who refuse to take tests that measure blood alcohol levels now will face tougher penalties.

Gov. Don Carcieri signed a bill into law that closes a longstanding loophole in the state’s law against drunken driving. The new rule stiffens punishments for the high percentage of drivers in Rhode Island who refuse to take Breathalyzer tests rather than risk being charged with drunken driving.

The state leads the nation in the number of drivers who refuse blood alcohol tests, The Providence Journal reported. Nearly 85 percent of motorists pulled over for suspicion of drunken driving refuse to take a blood-alcohol breath test, compared to 25 percent nationally.

Until now, Rhode Island law has mandated a three- to six-month license suspension for first-time offenders who refuse a Breathalyzer and up to a $500 fine and community service.

The new law, previously H6700 and S2072, will strip the driving privileges of first-timers who refuse to be tested for 12 months, with up to a $500 fine and 60 hours of community service. A second refusal within a five-year period will result in up to six months in prison, up to a $1,000 fine and as much as 100 hours of community service.

Subsequent offenders will face even harsher penalties, including up to a year behind bars.

The new penalties are now in effect.