R.I. Drunken Driving Laws Rated Poor by Safety Institute

August 16, 2005

Rhode Island has some of the weakest drunken driving laws in the nation, and was the only state to receive a “poor” rating in a survey of legislation to reduce drunken driving, according to a national highway safety organization.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave Rhode Island the mark after comparing states’ laws with four measures it contends research shows has reduced drunken driving.

One such measure is an administrative license-revocation law requiring at least a 30-day license revocation for violations. Susan Ferguson, the institute’s senior vice president for research, said that means an immediate revocation for drivers whose breath-test results show an illegal level of alcohol in their blood or who refuse to take the test.

Rhode Island has no such provision, according to The Providence Journal, and the ease with which drivers can refuse to be tested is a widely cited loophole in existing law.

State officials and interest groups say the General Assembly has failed to enact tougher legislation, despite their calls for action.

“There’s definitely room for improvement,” said Bernard Frezza, legislative liaison for the state Department of Transportation.

Gabrielle Abbate, president of the Rhode Island chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the poor rating from the institute is no surprise. She blamed the Democratic leadership for the problem.

“The legislature doesn’t even care,” she said.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Robert Flaherty, D-Warwick, said the state’s laws are adequate, and disputed the institute’s ratings system.

“I think we clearly have a mechanism to control drunk driving,” Flaherty said. The chairman added he was concerned that drunken driving laws could infringe on the constitutional rights of drivers.

The institute, based in Arlington, Va., is a nonprofit organization wholly supported by auto insurers. It conducts and publishes research on various highway safety issues.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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