RI, MA get mediocre ratings from MADD on anti-DUI measures

An alleged drunk driver hit a Glocester police cruiser head-on, March 27, 2015. (Photo: Glocester Police Department)
An alleged drunk driver hit a Glocester police cruiser head-on, March 27, 2015. (Photo: Glocester Police Department)

(WPRI) — Compared to the rest of New England and New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are falling down on the job of keeping drunk drivers off the roads, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

The organization released its 2016 “Report to the Nation” on Friday, rating every state on a 5-star scale on whether their laws require “proven countermeasures” such as ignition interlocks for cars and sobriety checkpoints.

Rhode Island scored the lowest of the New England states at 1 1/2 stars. The Ocean State got credit for requiring ignition interlocks for drunk driving offenders and allowing the devices to be removed after a certain amount of “clean” tests where the driver is not intoxicated; it’s also a misdemeanor in the state for someone to drive drunk with a child in the car, but not a felony.

Massachusetts was not much better, with 2 stars (or one and two half-stars). The Bay State was credited for not only conducting sobriety checkpoints, but conducting them monthly. A driver’s license can also be revoked immediately by the state in “administrative license revocation,” but ignition interlocks are not immediately installed for first-time offenders; MADD said 50 to 75 percent of offenders continue to drive even though they have lost their driving privileges. Massachusetts also says it’s a misdemeanor, but not a felony, to drive drunk with a child in the car.

Not covered by Rhode Island or Massachusetts, but also advocated by MADD, are penalties for suspected drunk drivers who refuse a sobriety test. In June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court said states had the right to penalize suspected drunk drivers who refuse an alcohol breath test, but said warrants must be obtained for blood and urine tests. 33 states require an ignition interlock or criminalize refusals, eliminating the incentive for a suspected drunk driver to refuse a test, MADD said.

Connecticut scored 3 1/2 stars; Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire each scored 3 stars. New York scored 4.

The highest any state in the Union scored as 4 1/2; no state satisfied all of MADD’s wish list. The national average was 2.92 stars.

“We’ve made great progress, but with more than 10,000 lives lost to drunk driving in 2015 — and concerns that the numbers are even higher in 2016 — we still have a lot of work to do,” said MADD national president Colleen Sheehey-Church.

In 2006, drunk driving caused more than 13,000 fatalities and 32 percent of all fatal crashes, MADD said. In 2016, while the number of annual fatalities remains above 10,000, the number of them has still dropped 24 percent, and drunk driving now causes only 29 percent of fatal crashes.