Bills in pipeline to increase DUI penalties

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — “Any way that we can deter people from the illegal act of drunk driving is something we’d be supportive of,” said Executive Director Eric Creamer of MADD Rhode Island.

Rhode Island lawmakers are pushing to bolster that principle by proposing stiffer penalties for those who drive while drunk. Creamer said Friday six proposed bills currently in the House and Senate Judiciary committees would create harsher traffic safety laws, and MADD is trying to drum up support for them.

One proposed law, Senate Bill 0247, would increase the maximum prison sentence for deadly drunk driving years from 20 years to 30 years.

Another would make it easier to classify repeat offenders. House Bill 5460 would extend what’s known as the “lookback” period for third and subsequent offenses for drivers who are stopped for DUI and for those who refuse to submit to a chemical test. Right now in Rhode Island, a drunk driving conviction is removed from the records of offenders who are not arrested again within five years of their convictions. But the bill would extend that to ten years. There’s a similar bill in the Senate.

Creamer says drunk driving is a lot more common than you may think: “About 30 to 33 percent of all traffic fatalities are DUI related… It’s decreasing, particularly in Rhode Island, but it’s still unacceptable, and it’s highly preventable.”

A new law that’s already gone into effect allows courts to order people convicted of DUI to use an ignition interlock device installed in their cars. Drivers have to breathe into it, and the car won’t start if their blood alcohol is above .02. Creamer believes that law may have paved the way for the proposed stiffer penalties.

Other bills also expand the penalties of leaving the scene of an accident — a hit and run — resulting in personal injury, serious bodily injury or death, to maximums of 60 years in prison, $100,000 in fines and a permanent loss of driver’s license.

Still, if any of the six laws are passed, Creamer says it could take months or years for them to go into effect.

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