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Monday, February 20, 2012

Cracking Down on deadly drivers

Rep. Donna Walsh introduces bills to improve legal tools to stop bad drivers
News Release from Rep. Donna Walsh

Representative Donna Walsh (Democrat, District 36) has introduced H-7178 and H-7179 to make it easier to identify serious repeat offenders and impose harsher penalties for drivers who drive under the influence and either kill or seriously injure another driver.

H-7178 introduced by Rep. Walsh in cooperation with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin would increase penalties and simplify sentencing for drivers convicted of DUI with serious injury or death resulting. Under Rep. Walsh’s legislation, the penalty for DUI, death resulting, would be a 5 to 30 year prison sentence, $5000 to $20,000 fine and license revocation of 5 to 10 years. For causing serious bodily injury, the penalties would be 1 to 20 years in prison, $1000 to $10,000 fine and lost of license for 2 to 5 years.

H-7178 would end the more lenient sentencing guidelines for first time offenses.

H-7179 changes the current law’s “look back” provision. “Look back” means the amount of time a judge or traffic magistrate would review when determining the penalty for a person convicted of driving under the influence or refusing a breathalyzer test. Under current Rhode Island law, the “look back” is only 5 years, the shortest period of time of any New England state.

Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut look back 10 years, while Massachusetts and Vermont look back over the driver’s lifetime record. The “look back” time can mean the difference between the judge treating the convicted driver as a first-time offender or as a repeat or chronic offender.

The National Transportation Safety Board says Rhode Island does not do enough to stop people who habitually drive drunk or under the influence. The NTSB also says Rhode Island needs to count drunk driving convictions for at least 10 years and automatically suspend a driver’s license for refusing or failing a breathalyzer test.

Rep. Walsh sees these new bills as a next step following the enactment of “Colin’s Law,” the bill Rep. Walsh co-authored in the 2010 General Assembly session. The bill is named after Charlestown resident Colin Foote who was killed last year by Laura Reale, a multiple traffic offender.

Last year, Rep. Walsh succeeded in winning the enactment of a change to Rhode Island law that closed the loophole used by cagey chronic offenders of mailing in payment for tickets in lieu of court appearances to disguise their bad driving records. That new law now requires repeat offenders to appear in court.

Walsh consults regularly with concerned citizens, traffic safety advocates and law enforcement officials to spot and remedy defects in the justice system that allows bad drivers to endanger the public. “I am determined to find and fix these problems to end the threat posed by repeat offenders to the community,” declared Walsh.