Three years after the state cracked down on drunken driving, police are arresting more suspected drunk drivers but fewer repeat offenders, according to statistics released by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Three years after the state cracked down on drunken driving, police are making more arrests, but fewer of those arrests are for repeat offenses, the Registry of Motor Vehicles says.
Figures indicate that while Massachusetts drivers still get behind the wheel after a few drinks – police arrested 16,199 people for driving under the influence during the past 12 months – tougher penalties are discouraging them from doing it a second time.
Nearly 4,400 drivers convicted of two or more OUI offenses have enrolled in the Registry’s ignition interlock program, which requires installation of a device that electronically checks the driver’s blood-alcohol level every time the key is placed in the ignition.
Of those drivers, 553 have completed the program, mandated for two years after a second conviction, and only two have been arrested again, the Registry said.
The program was one of the key elements of Melanie’s Law, passed three years ago this week in memory of Melanie Powell, a 13-year-old Marshfield girl killed by a drunken driver in July 2003. Her grandfather Ron Bersani of Marshfield said the success rate proves the effectiveness of the ignition interlock program.
The devices cost $168 and drivers pay $83.75 a month for two years for insurance and taxes, said Michele Fontaine, founder of Life Safer Interlock, one of five vendors of the devices in the state. But Bersani, who led efforts to get Melanie’s Law passed, said he wants to see the program extended to first-time offenders.
He also said Breathalyzer refusals should be admissible as evidence in a trial and should result in license revocation even if the driver is found not guilty.
“We need some tougher laws,” he said. “There are some things I would like to see that will probably never happen.”
Suspected drunken drivers who refuse the breath test on their first offense lose their license for 180 days.
On the second offense, the loss is for three years; on the third, five years; on the fourth, lifetime revocation.
Breathalyzer refusals this year are down 22 percent from 2002, the year before Melanie’s Law was passed.
Mary McNamara, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Massachusetts, said the Registry figures provide a “light of hope” for families who have lost loved ones to alcohol-related accidents.
“It is a milestone to be celebrated, but there is much, much more hard work to do,” she said.
Nancy Reardon may be reached at email@example.com.