PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State Representative Robert Nardolillo announced Tuesday that he is introducing legislation to make driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a child under the age of 13 in the vehicle a felony offense.
The legislation will coincide with a Senate bill expected to be introduced by Senator Maryellen Goodwin. Nardolillo said he hopes to introduce the bill to the house sometimes next week.
Rhode Island has seen a significant rise in the number of fatalities on the road, and Nardolillo says about half of these can be attributed to driving under the influence. Nardolillo said there have also been a number of DUI cases involving children as young as two years old present in the car at the time of the arrest.
In December 2017, Rhode Island State Police arrested a Connecticut man who was driving with a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit while a 9-year-old child was in the backseat. In June 2017, a Providence woman was arrested and charged for allegedly driving drunk with four children in her car. In February 2017, a 2-year-old boy was sent to the hospital and an 8-year-old boy died after a serious crash in Warwick. Police say the driver was drunk when his SUV crossed the line and struck another vehicle head on.
“These children are innocent bystanders caught up in the destructive decisions made by their parents and caregivers. There needs to be more serious consequences than a simple misdemeanor,” Nardolillo said. “This legislation would send a clear message that if you endanger the life of a child because of your choices there will be repercussions.”
Right now, driving under the influence with children under the age of 13 in the car is a misdemeanor punishable with up to one year in prison. Nardolillo’s legislation would change bump the penalty to up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and an immediate suspension of the driver’s license.
“Drinking and driving is illegal. But now there is child endangerment that we are talking about at this time,” Nardolillo said. “We don’t want to have to keep creating more laws and laws and laws. We expect that individuals are going to behave appropriately. But this puts them in check and that’s really what we have to do.”
Back in 2013, State Representative Robert Craven introduced a similar bill, though it was recommended to be held for further study. Goodwin’s Senate version of that bill passed.