2013-04-04 / News

Driving drunk with kids may carry stiffer penalties

The state Senate last week approved legislation sponsored by Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin to stiffen penalties for adults who drive under the influence with a child in their vehicle.

Current Rhode Island law allows those convicted of DUI who committed the crime with a child under 13 in their vehicle to be sentenced to up to one year in prison. Goodwin’s legislation would institute immediate license suspension pending prosecution and make the crime a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, license suspension for up to two years, attendance in a course for DUI offenders, and alcohol treatment. It also allows the sentencing judge to impose an additional highway-assessment fine of up to $500.

“Driving under the influence is a serious offense, but it rises to a new level of danger when it endangers a helpless child,” she said. “People who drive drunk with a child in their cars are committing a much more serious crime than DUI, and they deserve a much more significant sentence. This bill sends a message that putting a child’s life at risk in this way will not be tolerated in Rhode Island.”

State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell and staff from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office testified in support of the bill at its hearing on March 7.

There have been numerous cases in recent months of Rhode Islanders being charged with DUI with one or more children in their vehicles. In one example on Route 95 in October, state troopers arrested a 25-year-old Richmond man who was allegedly driving drunk at 120 miles an hour with his 2-, 3- and 4-year-old children in the car.

The bill will now head to the House of Representatives where similar legislation is being sponsored by Rep. Robert Craven of North Kingstown.

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