The Rhode Island General Assembly has recently introduced legislation on behalf of the Attorney General to toughen Rhode Island's drunk driving laws. The new legislation, if enacted, would give Rhode Island the distinction of having some of the toughest penalties in the nation for driving under the influence, death resulting.
The proposed legislation would increase the maximum penalty for a conviction of driving under the influence death resulting from 15 to 30 years in prison with fines of up to $20,000 and license revocation for as long as 10 years. The legislation would also increase penalties for anyone convicted of driving under the influence, serious bodily injury resulting from 10 years to 20 years, increase fines from $1,000 to $10,000 and increase license revocation from 3 to 5 years. Another bill filed on behalf of the Attorney General would create a new crime, that of driving under the influence, injury resulting. Injury under this legislation would include all injuries not meeting the standard of “serious bodily injury”. Finally, a bill has been proposed to increase from 5 years to 10 years the “look-back” period on repeat alcohol-related offenses.
The sad reality however is that tougher punishments and stricter penalties for drunk driving death resulting cases have nothing to do with preventing DUIs. Almost every drunk driver that kills someone, never thought they would cause a death resulting accident, if they did they would most likely not be driving in the first place. Therefore, people will continue to drive. If the state would like to prevent drunk driving death cases, they must make stricter penalties for all drunk driving cases, not only the ones that cause death.
Clearly, it is unacceptable for there to be any fatality or injury resulting from drink driver. However, the legislature should not be mislead to believe that increasing the punitive laws and penalties for only injury and death cases will have a significant effect on ending these injuries or deaths. Rather, the legislature should focus on more comprehensive approaches to the problem of drunk driving which include education and alcohol treatment in addition to enforcement of harsh penalties for all drunk drivers.