Rhode Island lawmaker pursues tougher DUI rules

| 1/6/2009

Stuck with a label as one of the worst states for drunken driving offenses, a Rhode Island state lawmaker wants to remove that distinction.

The National Transportation Safety Board has singled out the state of Rhode Island for its lack of success in curbing drunken driving. Describing the NTSB report as a “wake-up call,” Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, said he plans to offer three bills during the session that starts Tuesday, Jan. 6, which would add penalties.

The legislative effort follows the arrest last summer by Rhode Island State Police of a man whose blood alcohol content reportedly was 0.491 percent – the highest ever recorded in the state for someone who didn’t die.

New requirements sought by Raptakis include confiscating and impounding the license plate of a vehicle for 90 days for anyone suspected of driving under the influence, The Providence Journal reported.

He also wants to double the period of time a driver’s history can be examined. The “look back” period would be extended from five years to 10 years. In addition, penalties would be increased for people convicted of driving under the influence, resulting in serious injury or death.

Advocates for stricter drunken driving rules cite statistics that show drivers who are convicted on driving while intoxicated usually have driven drunk between 80 and 100 times before being caught.

“We must make it harder for convicted drunk drivers to get behind the wheel the next time,” Raptakis said in a written statement.

In addition to Rhode Island, the NTSB identified Michigan and Montana as doing little to curb drunken driving. Those states have enacted two of 11 recommendations from the NTSB to reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Rhode Island in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor