States Seek to Toughen Penalties for BAC Refusal

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Blood alcohol content / breath alcohol content (BAC) test refusals are common in most U.S. States. A 2005 report issued by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration compiled refusal statistics from 42 states. The average refusal rate across the 42 states reporting was 25%, or one in every four DUI stops. Despite stricter breath test refusal penalties in many states, that rate had increased from 19% in 1987.

With refusal rates in some states ranging above 80%, many states are feeling pressure to make changes. Since many drivers refuse testing in hopes of avoiding a DUI conviction, some lawmakers believe that bringing refusal penalties in line with DUI penalties would substantially decrease refusals.

Rhode Island Moves to Criminalize Refusals

Rhode Island held the record in 2001, with 84.9% of suspected drunk drivers refusing the breath test. The Rhode Island legislature appears well on its way to passing a bill that would double the penalty for a first offense BAC refusal from a six-month license suspension to a twelve-month suspension. That's double the license suspension associated with a first-offense DUI conviction in Rhode Island. The bill would also make a second BAC test refusal a criminal offense, punishable by up to six months in jail, increased fines, and substantial community service requirements.

Already Increased Penalties Prove Insufficient in Ohio

Ohio's 40.4% refusal rate pales in comparison to the Rhode Island rate, but was high enough to capture the attention of lawmakers. Ohio was already among the minority of states that added penalties to the typical license suspension for refusal, and now aims to increase the length of the license suspension.

Illinois Considers Doubling License Suspension

The Illinois refusal rate was actually down slightly in 2001: 38.3% as compared to 39.2% in 1996. Still, the state is considering doubling the length of the license suspension for BAC refusal from six months to twelve.

Overview

In the past fourteen months, at least 15 states have introduced bills to increase penalties for BAC refusal. Those states with harsh penalties already in effect have seen some success in minimizing BAC refusal. Nebraska, for instance, penalizes refusal with 60 days in jail. The 2001 BAC refusal rate in Nebraska was 6.2%. While some states' efforts have failed, others-including Montana, Maryland and Virginia-have already increased the applicable penalties. If this trend continues, drivers across the country will soon be facing tougher decisions and, if they opt to refuse BAC tests, stricter penalties.


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